Pro-China officials in the White House and Pentagon are quietly undermining Japan’s request to buy 50 advanced F-22 jet fighter-bombers, to avoid upsetting Beijing’s government, according to U.S. officials familiar with the dispute.
Japan’s Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma made a formal request to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates earlier this month for classified technical data on the jet, as a first step toward a purchase.
The Japanese view the advanced warplane as a key element of a military modernization needed to counter current missile threats from North Korea and a longer-term threat from China.
Air Force officials and defense industry officials, however, said officials at the National Security Council and within the office of the secretary of defense are opposing the sale, and plan to delay acting on Japan’s request until after a September deadline, when Tokyo will then be forced to look for other jets to upgrade its aging aircraft arsenal.
Dennis Wilder, the NSC staff China specialist, declined to endorse the F-22 for Japan days before Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe first raised the sale with President Bush at the White House. Mr. Wilder told reporters at the time it was an “open question” to be left for experts on the type of U.S. aircraft sold to Japan.
China opposes F-22 sales since the ultra-modern fighter-bomber can carry large numbers of precision guided bombs, can hit targets at long ranges, and has antiradar stealth that can evade all of China’s air defenses.
Both the Air Force and the F-22 manufacturer, Lockheed Martin Corp., favor building an export version of the F-22 to reduce unit costs, now estimated to be around $150 million per jet, and to bolster the alliance with Japan. South Korea, Australia and Israel also are interested in buying the F-22.
Congress will first need to change legislation to permit foreign sales, but the administration so far has not taken any steps to seek a lifting of the ban.
The F-22 export is a major test of U.S. support for Japan and is being watched closely by Japanese government officials who are worried Washington will not back Tokyo and instead kow-tow to Beijing on the sale.
A Pentagon spokesmen said U.S. law prohibits sales of F-22s abroad. A White House spokesman had no immediate comment.