See here for James’ previous, and more detailed in terms of capabilities, post on the Eurofighter Typhoon.

In my previous post some may have perceived a subtle suggestion that the F-35 was the frontrunner in Japan’s F-X fighter jet competition. This may well be the case but the 4-country Eurofighter consortium is not going to die wondering and is making a strong case for selection later on this year.  Former UK Chief of the Air Staff Sir Glenn Torpy, and current senior military advisor to BAE Systems, sat down for an interview (jp) with the Sankei Shimbun to make the case for the Eurofighter Typhoon.

According to Torpy, the Eurofighter is the more appropriate choice for the Japanese government when it starts to purchase next generation fighters in 2016. The main strength Torpy referred to was the Eurofighter’s superior in-air performance and the fact that it is a air superiority fighter first and foremost compared to the F-35.  Torpy referenced its 4 minute take-off, ability to climb to 40,000 feet in 2 minutes, and ability to maintain manoeuvrability at 55,000 feet. Glen, who has flown both the Typhoon and the FA-18 which is also in the competition, admits that from the point of view of air superiority, the F-22 (which Japan wanted but is subject to an export ban from the US) towers above the rest.

In discussing the others Torpy argues that the FA-18, which is being used in the current war in Libya,  is better suited operations involving ground targets but lacks manoeuvrability over 50,000 feet.

In regards to the Typhoon, Torpy points to the fact that it is combat-ready and is already being used by 6 nations while the F-35 is still under development (Torpy generously does not mention the significant cost overruns the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program has suffered from). Citing BAE Systems participation in F-35 co-development, Torpy believes that while both are multi-role fighters it would be more appropriate to describe the F-35 as a attack aircraft first and foremost, with the ability to operate as an air superiority fighter as a secondary mission. He says the Eurofighter Typhoon on the other hand is an excellent interceptor aircraft, but is also able to perform as a attack fighter. In other words, given Japan’s desire for a fighter with extensive air defense capabilities, the Typhoon would be the most suitable choice on the basis of capabilities alone.

Torpy also references the possibility that Japan may have to purchase FA-18s from the US while it waits for the F-35 to be completed and go into production. Citing the duplication of primary mission roles, in addition to Japan’s specific strategic needs at this point in time, Torpy believes the next best air defense fighter after the F-22, the Eurofighter, is the logical choice. He also makes mention of the FA-18s high running costs and the fact is intended to deployed to aircraft carriers.

The other advantage cited, and a very crucial one given yesterday’s post in regards to relaxing the arms export ban, is the fact that there is no black-boxing with the Eurofighter and thus Japanese companies would be free to manufacture them on license in Japan. While the US has recently suggested it might allow Japan to build some parts of the F-35 in Japan, clearly the Eurofighter would present less difficulties in terms of technology sharing and confidentiality (and thus be very good for Japanese companies and thus Japan’s advanced fighter development capabilities).

In terms of some of the broader issues discussed in yesterday’s post, it is quite likely that the Eurofighter would present less problems. While the EU itself from time to time suggests that it might relax or abolish the weapons export ban on China, relaxation of this ban does not equate to countries, especially Eurofighter co-producers, being willing to actually export the fighter to China (Which would be a) strategically unacceptable for Japan given who the fighters would be purchased to “intercept” and b) contrary to the what the modified arms export principles are likely to be).

The big problem, as pointed out by the article itself, is given pre-existing tension in the US-Japan alliance whether the Japanese government is willing to test the US’ patience on this. Frankly, if the US and Japan were secure about the alliance situation then considering the Eurofighter should not be that much of an issue. However this is not the case and it is still likely that even if the F-35 is seen to be an inferior choice in terms of cost, mission suitability, and deployment timeliness, it will get preferential treatment by the government.

On the other hand,  the Eurofighter might “publicly” raise less alarm bells. While Japan overtime is becoming more comfortable with this, being closely tied into the US military machine does still raise some eyebrows. While the Eurofighter is not an “EU” fighter as such, the EU’s more normatively orientated foreign policy might provide some useful cover if the Japanese government wanted to forestall public concern about relaxing the arms ban for this purpose. It could be argued that the Eurofighter is more faithful to one of the likely principles of any modified arms export regime, which is the “no export of weapons likely to cause harm to civilians” (ie an air defense/superiority fighter first and foremost vs the F-35′s identified primary role as an attack aircraft), although this kind of argument maybe a little bit too clever.

But given that Japan-EU defense relations are slowly growing, the purchase of the Eurofighter would certainly enhance Japan’s slow process of “alliance diversification” and it certainly should be given due consideration – if Japan did purchase the Eurofighter and the alliance suffered only a minor level of friction this would be a good indication that the US-Japan alliance is maturing somewhat.
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Corey Wallace joined Japan Security Watch in 2011. He writes on Japan security-related topics, focusing on issues and stories that may not find their way into the English language media. He also hosts the blog Sigma1 where he writes on Japanese domestic politics and broader issues in international relations. Prior to taking up a PhD Corey was a participant on the JET program (2004-2007) and on returning to New Zealand he worked at the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology from 2007-2010 as a policy adviser. Corey lectures two courses at the University of Auckland. One is on the international relations of the Asia-Pacific, which contains a significant focus on East Asia security issues. The other is a course on China's international relations. His primary academic interests before his current Japan focus were science and technology politics/policy, issues of ethnic identity, and Chinese modern history and politics. He carries over his interest in issues of identity and history into his PhD where he is looking at generationally situated concepts of national identity and their impact on foreign policy ideas in Japan.
Corey Wallace has 256 post(s) on Japan Security Watch