Japan "likely to pick F-35 fighter" this week

Tue Dec 13, 2011 2:54am EST
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By Tim Kelly and Kiyoshi Takenaka

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan will likely pick Lockheed Martin's F-35 jet as its next frontline fighter, media reported on Tuesday, which may help end six decades of isolation for the country's defense contractors and bolster its military against growing Chinese might.

The government will choose between two U.S. models -- the F-35 and the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet -- and Europe's four-nation Eurofighter Typhoon, at a meeting of the national security council on Friday, the Nikkei business daily said.

The date of the planned meeting could not be confirmed with government officials and chief cabinet spokesman Osamu Fujimura said no decision had been made. The Pentagon's F-35 program office also said it had not received any word from Japan.

Analysts say the purchase is potentially worth $8 billion.

The hope for Lockheed is that assembling the F-35 in Japan will spur the pacifist nation to lift a ban on military equipment exports, allowing contractors such as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to compete as suppliers for the fighter.

"If the government chooses to go forward and relax the (export ban) we believe there is a very strong case for participating in the F-35 program," said Dave Scott director of international business development for the F-35.

While the most expensive of the three, the F-35 leads the others due to its "overwhelmingly superior performance" and stealth capabilities, the Nikkei said.

To compete against Lockheed's fifth-generation technological edge, Boeing is offering as much as 80 percent of the construction to local makers, with Eurofighter promising 95 percent for their fourth-generation designs.   Continued...