Typhoon, F/A-18, F-35 could duel in Japan fighter bid

America's twin aerospace defense titans want to avoid deja vu in the coming battle for a fighter deal with Japan.

They don’t want to say it out loud, but here’s what Boeing and Lockheed are thinking right now: “Not again!”

According to a report this week in the Financial Times, Japan says it would be open to choosing the Eurofighter Typhoon as its new front-line fighter jet, setting up a possible three-way battle between it, Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet and Lockheed’s F-35 Lightning II.

This would be the second time in recent history that American defense giants have battled Europe for a major Asian opportunity, after India’s Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft. And as we all remember, that program  did not end well for the Americans. But India is India, and this is Japan — America’s staunchest Asian ally, right? They buy stuff from the U.S. all the time, so this should be a lock for either Big B or Lockheed, right?

No — not according to the FT’s Mure Dickie, who wrote this:

In an interview with the FT, [new Defense Minister Yasuo] Ichikawa said Japan’s alliance with the US would not be a “major criterion” in deciding between the Eurofighter Typhoon and US rivals Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet and Lockheed’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

After years of delay, Tokyo is now set to decide before the end of December on the purchase of around 42 fighters, a deal estimated to be worth more than $6bn and that could have far-reaching implications for the competing aircraft.

Analysts have in the past generally assumed that Tokyo’s close military alliance with Washington and post-war practice of relying almost exclusively on the US for imports of advanced weapon systems meant Eurofighter had little chance of winning the deal. However, Washington’s decision not to allow Japan to buy Lockheed’s stealthy and highly capable F-22 – Tokyo’s favoured option – appears to have opened an unprecedented opportunity for the Eurofighter consortium.

Adding India and Japan as members would be huge for Club Eurofighter, although neither deal is final yet. There are elements in the aerospace game with fingers crossed that India’s competition will fall apart and open up another opportunity, and it’s at least theoretically possible the U.S. also could give Japan what it wants, too.

Here’s a scenario for you: Lockheed is still assembling the very last F-22s at its plant in Marietta, Ga.; it has said the no-kidding final fighter would roll off the line in November. If Congress acted quickly to lift the ban on foreign military sales of the Raptor, then Lockheed rushed over to Tokyo with a bid, it might check a lot of boxes: A Foreign Military Sales windfall for the U.S. and Lockheed; a newly strengthened security relationship with Japan; and a potential strategic game-changer in the Western Pacific, where China’s J-20 would not be the only fifth-generation game in town.

It’s all possible, but it probably won’t happen — Congress will not lift its FMS objections on the F-22, which it has kept in place since 1998, and if this issue even made it onto lawmakers’ agendas, they might not be able act before Japan’s December deadline. (Congress is so dysfunctional we could soon face another prospect of another possible government shutdown.) Also, Boeing might have something to say about all of this, too.

Still, it could happen — what do you think? Is it time to reconsider foreign Raptor sales while they’re still feasible?