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International Relations

Lockheed offers F-22 and F-35 hybrid for Japan's next fighter

Boeing, BAE System join the race to snag massive defense contract

Lockheed Martin has formally offered technology from the F-22 fighter jet as Japan considers its replacement for retiring aircraft.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin proposed combining technologies from two of the world's most powerful fighter jets for Japan's next-generation fleet in a formal proposal submitted by Friday.

In addition to Lockheed, Boeing and Britain's BAE Systems have also offered their own technologies to replace Japan's F-2 fighters, slated to retire around 2030, the Defense Ministry said. Friday was the deadline for proposal submissions. Japan will now weigh these options alongside proposals for a homegrown fighter and joint development with the U.S. or U.K.

Details of their offers have not been made public. But Lockheed has apparently pitched an aircraft that brings together the best of the F-22 tactical fighter jet, known for its advanced stealth capabilities and supersonic speeds, and the F-35, which has network capabilities allowing it to draw on data from ground facilities.

F-22 technology is guarded closely by the U.S., and generally not allowed out of the country. If Americans share some of that tech with Japan, that means Washington deems the country an essential U.S. partner on defense. It is still unclear how much information the U.S. side is willing to divulge.

The other two bidders are also thought to have offered revamped versions of current models. Boeing produces the FA-18 jet used by the U.S. military. The ship-based aircraft is prized for the power it provides even at slower speeds. BAE's Eurofighter Typhoon, developed by four nations including the U.K., is known for its supersonic cruising speeds.

When selecting a next-generation fighter jet in 2011, Japan considered the F-35, FA-18 and Eurofighter, ultimately deciding on the first.

The Defense Ministry plans to push for join development to involve Japanese companies, including Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. A purely Japanese fighter is probably off the table owing to high costs and technological challenges. A potential British-Japan fighter project is also being discussed.

Japan is looking to make a final decision within this year to include the plan in an updated defense plan taking effect from fiscal 2019.

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