So the other day, reports surfaced claiming that Japan was going to choose Lockheed Martin's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter this week to replace its oldest F-4 Phantoms and F-15 Eagles. Needless to say, one of the U.S.' biggest allies in the Pacific was signing on to be the latest JSF operator, would be a major coup for the embattled F-35.
Then yesterday morning I began hearing rumint that Tokyo has pushed back the selection date until next week. Remember, the F-35 is competing against Boeing's F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the Eurofighter Rafale to be selected as Japan's next multirole fighter.
Some people I spoke with suggested this was a hint that Japan may not have settled on the JSF and that a debate over which jet to buy is still happening inside the halls of power in Tokyo.
Well, Reuters published an article yesterday that seems to confirm those reports. However, it sounds like the F-35 still has a lock on victory in the Land of the Rising Sun:
The Japanese government has delayed a formal announcement on its choice of a next-generation fighter jet until December 20, according to two sources familiar with the process, but Lockheed Martin Corp's (NYSE:LMT) radar-evading F-35 is still expected to get the order.
The delay came because Japan's national security council, chaired by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, has to deal with other pressing matters at a December 14 meeting where the fighter jet decision had initially been expected, said the sources, who were not authorized to speak on the record.
But the delay did not mean any change in Japan's commitment to buy Lockheed's F-35 fighter, one of the sources added.
Japan's government and ruling party officials have approved a Defense Ministry proposal to buy Lockheed's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as the country's next mainstay fighter, public broadcaster NHK said on Wednesday.
Japanese media said on Tuesday that Lockheed was likely to win a deal worth more than $7 billion, beating out Boeing's (NYSE:BA) F/A-18 and the Eurofighter Typhoon, made by a consortium of European companies including BAE Systems (BAES.L).
Japan's Defense Ministry denied the reports, and the U.S. Defense Department's F-35 program office said it had not been notified by the Japanese government of any decision.
"The Defense Ministry has made no decision yet. A meeting of minister, vice minister and parliamentary secretaries (to make the decision) has not even been held yet," a spokesman for the ministry said.
Ralph Heath, executive vice president of Lockheed's aeronautics division, told Reuters late on Tuesday the company was still awaiting Japan's decision, but remained confident the F-35 jet was the best plane in the competition.
A decision by Japan to choose the F-35 as its mainstay fighter would strengthen the long-standing relationship between Lockheed and Japan, and help maintain security in "a very critical part of the world," he said.
Winning an order to build 40 to 50 planes for Japan would be a strong endorsement of the F-35 fighter, which is being developed by the United States and eight partner countries -- Britain, Netherlands, Norway, Australia, Turkey, Italy and Canada -- to replace 12 current fighter jets.