Despite news reports claiming that Lockheed Martin's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will win Japan's F-X fighter contest, Boeing officials say Tokyo delayed the contract award until next week because it is still heavily weighing all three contestants, including Boeing's Super Hornet.
"We think what they've done is taken another hard look at the full situation and have decided that if they do pick F-35 there are some things that they are not sure of right now, some risk in terms of cost and schedule," saidPhil Mills, Boeing's lead salesman for the F-X contest during a Dec. 16 interview. "I personally think that they are taking another look at what's the real, best move for Japan to make right now."
Tokyo was supposed to announce the winner of the contest between the F-35, Boeing's F/A-18E Super Hornet and the Eurofighter Typhoon to replace two squadrons of aging F-4 Phantoms on Dec. 16. However, on Dec. 14 it was announced that Japan would delay the decision until Dec. 20 because officials in Tokyo "decided they need to go back and look at some more facts before they make a decision," said Mills.
He added that both Japan's defense minister and secretary general of it's armed forces have denied that the F-35 has won. Mills also denied initial reports saying that Tokyo delayed its source selection until next week because several key decision makers are traveling. "Everybody's in town, that could be an excuse that somebody said, but I'm pretty sure that it's more than that," said Mills.
"We think that they are still working to ensure that they are working to ensure that they have a good final decision before they announce," added Mills. "We know that the [Japanese] prime minister has not been briefed nor has the cabinet, and those things have to happen before there is a decision."
Boeing is pitching the Super Hornet as the proven, low-cost, low-risk alternative to the F-35 and Eurofighter.
"I don't think there is any significant difference between capabilities between the two airplanes," said Mills, arguing that the Super Hornet is flying today and even has some stealth capability.
"The Block II Super Hornet actually has the same avionics package and weapons system that we had designed for our JSF offering; that includes APG-79 AESA radar and a much different avionics architecture that includes a high speed data network."
He also played the interoperability card, saying that replacing the F-4s with a jet used by the U.S. Navy would give Japan a modern fighter that is being used by one of Japan's most important allies. He also pointed out that Both the U.S. Navy plans to fly its Super Hornets alongside Lockheed's F-35s. Japan, said Mills, could buy Super Hornets to replace its F-4s in the next couple of years and then replace its oldest F-15 Eagles with F-35s once the JSF program has stabilized.
"If you look at F-18s to replace the F-4s right now, that makes sense, they need airplanes right now, they need high-capability, ow-risk airplanes and they want to do [locally] licensed production," said Mills. "We can make that happen on-time and on-budget. Let F-35 mature and then maybe replace older F-15s with F-35s and what [the Japan Air Self Defense Force] would end up with a force structure that has a lot of commonality with the two largest air forces in the Pacific region; those being the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy. So they'd have F-15s and F-35s common with the Air Force and they'd have F-18s and F-35s, assuming the Navy eventually gets F-35s out here, so they'd have that force structure in common with the Navy."