Monday, December 19, 2011

F-35 Wins Japan Fighter Competition

TOKYO - Japan on Dec. 20 chose the U.S.-built F-35 Joint Strike Fighter stealth jet for its next-generation mainstay fighter, as North Korea provided a timely reminder of the region's potential for instability.
U.S. AIR FORCE F-35A Joint Strike Fighters are shown in the skies over Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., in July. Japan announced Dec. 20 that it would buy the F-35A variant to replace its F-4 fleet. (Staff Sgt. Joely Santiago / U.S. Air Force)
In a deal estimated to be worth more than $4 billion, Japan went for the trouble-plagued jet to replace its aging fleet of F-4 fighters.
"The government shall acquire 42 units of F-35A after fiscal 2012 in order to replenish and to modernize the current fleet of fighters held by the Air Self-Defense Force," the cabinet said in a statement.
Lockheed Martin's F-35 beat off competition from two other jets: the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet and the Eurofighter Typhoon.
The government said Japanese companies would take part in building the new fighters.
The formal decision, which had long been expected, came the day after news of the death of Kim Jong Il sent jitters through the region amid fears a power transition could destabilize North Korea's hard=line regime.
Tokyo was originally expected to announce its pick last week. The selection comes as China's massive military machine continues to grow and Beijing becomes increasingly assertive.
The F-35 is the most expensive weapons program in Pentagon history and has been plagued by cost overruns and technical delays.
Co-developed with British defense giant BAE Systems, the F-35 was the costliest of the three models under consideration, with a price tag estimated at $113 million per aircraft.
Japan initially aimed to acquire the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter to renew its fleet, but U.S. law prohibits exports of the jet and the United States has halted production of the model.
Japan, which places its security alliance with the United States at the cornerstone of its foreign policy, has long depended on U.S. manufacturers for its military hardware.

Japan F-X Announcement Due Within Hours

TOKYO - The Japanese government's sudden decision to delay the announcement of a winner in its multibillion-dollar fighter program is widely regarded as a sign that Lockheed Martin's F-35 has emerged as a late frontrunner despite concerns over cost and local workshare, according to government and industry sources.
F-35 JOINT STRIKE Fighters sit on the tarmac at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., earlier this year. Japan is scheduled to make a decision Dec. 20 on the winner of its F-X fighter competition, and some say the F-35 is the favorite. (U.S. Air Force)
Japan's National Security Council was slated to announce Dec. 16 whether the F-35, Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet or the Eurofighter Typhoon will replace about 40 Mitsubishi F-4EJ Kai Phantoms starting in early 2017 under a contract valued at about $8 billion. The announcement has been moved to Tuesday, Dec. 20.
When the F-X competition began, the aim was to buy 48 air superiority fighters with little development cost and a large share of work for Japanese industry. The F-35 was considered a long shot because development was slipping, unit costs growing, and workshare prospects were more limited.
But Tokyo began to look more favorably on the plane after Japan was denied Lockheed's stealthy F-22 and concerns about China's military escalated.
Early last week, Japan's defense establishment was thrown into a furor following local media reports that the F-35 was the likely winner.
Senior government officials denied that any decision had been made.
But one source said the Joint Strike Fighter had long ago moved to the front of the pack because government officials decided that they wanted stealth, as much high technology as possible and a good relationship with the United States.
"The Japanese always wanted the JSF," said one source. "So they ended up with the result they wanted, and now the question is whether they can sustain it."
Picking the F-35 would invite criticism from the opposition and media of the plane's cost, schedule delays and a recent spate of reports that focused on shortcomings highlighted during development.
Critics may also charge that the competition has been less transparent than claimed, although executives of the three main contenders have said the MoD has been painstakingly careful to make the contest as fair and open as possible.
The stakes in the F-X competition go beyond replacing the F-4s; the winner is likely also to get the bigger prize of replacing more than 100 F-15Js within the next 10 years.
Shinichi Kiyotani, a military analyst and journalist, said the sudden delay in the announcement points to divisions within the MoD and the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) cabinet.
"There are internal discussions within the MoD; some bureaus are sold on it [the F-35], others aren't," Kiyotani said. "There is division at the top of the MoD, and there are still internal discussions within the DPJ Cabinet. There are so many problems with the F-35, it's seen as a huge risk."
Among other concerns, there's the question of whether the F-35 will offer enough local workshare to support Japan's ailing aerospace sector. The country's only active fighter-jet assembly line is slated to shut down after rolling out just six more Mitsubishi F-2s, a derivative of the F-16.
That consideration was seen as giving the edge to Eurofighter, which vowed to give Japanese industry as much as 95 percent of the work, or to Boeing, which said that more than 80 percent would be available. Lockheed offered less, but argued that access to next-generation production capabilities and coveted stealth technology outweighed financial value.
Kiyotani also noted concerns about the recent news of a slowdown in production of the F-35 caused by some lingering technical problems and the potential that U.S. politics and budget cuts could shrink the Pentagon's own purchase.
"The F-35 is already seen as very expensive. If the number of units is only a few a year, then that will push up costs," he said. "Nobody believes the Lockheed Martin story of an eventual $65 million or so a plane."
Alessio Patalano, a Japan military expert at King's College in London, agreed on the risks involved.
"Of these three options, the F-35 is on paper the one with superior performance characteristics, but it is an operationally untested aircraft, widely reported to run into constant escalating costs and with serious issues in relation to delivery timetables," Patalano said. "More importantly, there is no way to know at the moment if its ... superior stealth capabilities will make a difference in real-time missions: By the time it will enter into service, technology will have provided new ways to reduce the impact of this feature. Second, there is little guarantee as to whether once it is fully armed, this configuration will not have an impact on its stealth capabilities."
A senior Japanese industry source speaking on condition of anonymity also said industry doesn't yet fully buy into the F-35's value proposition.
"We have not yet got concrete information of how we will be involved," the executive said. "It is said that Japanese industry will assemble substantial portions of the F-35, according to the media, but we aren't sure exactly what systems and components Lockheed Martin will be allowed to permit industry to produce in the future.
"I am afraid that delays will happen that will increase costs next year or a few years later. Some feel that it is better that we avoid such a situation. Others want to us to pursue the newest fighter like some kind of super car," he said. "If Japan doesn't get the final version of the F-35 until a decade later, we may really need a different fighter. If there are delays, then the government may well have to put up with purchasing lower numbers."
Jun Okumura, a counselor for Eurasia Group, said the Japanese government will likely opt for the F-35 based on political reasons.
"The administration [of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda] places great value on the bilateral alliance, particularly at a time when a rising China is making waves in Japan's near abroad and beyond - including hints of its own Gen-5 program - and the U.S. has decided to reupholster its engagement in the Asia-Pacific," he said. "All that the government sources are willing to say now is that nothing has been decided yet. Assuming that it is indeed the F-35, though, it means that MoD could have, but did not, go for an interim, Gen-4+ solution while waiting for the questions around the F-35, including timing, to clear up."

U.S. Special Forces Now in Central African Republic

BANGUI, Central African Republic - U.S. Special Forces troops have set up a base in the Central African Republic as part of their regional hunt for fighters from the Ugandan-born Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) group, military sources said.
"The deployment of this contingent, the size of which is unknown, was carried out very discreetly with Ugandan military aircraft," a Central African military official said Dec. 19 on condition of anonymity.
The U.S. troops set up a base in Obo and are expected to coordinate their efforts with local government forces and Ugandan soldiers.
U.S. President Barack Obama in October announced he was sending 100 Special Forces troops to Kampala, Uganda, to help Uganda track down LRA chief and international fugitive Joseph Kony, who has wreaked havoc over four nations for more than two decades.
Besides Obo, the U.S. forces also have a forward base in South Sudan. They began deploying in Uganda earlier this month.
The rebels currently number several hundred, a fraction of their strength at their peak but still include a core of hardened fighters infamous for mutilating civilians and abducting children for troops and sex-slaves.
The majority of U.S. troops will be based in Uganda while a smaller number will be based in jungle areas in neighboring countries to advise regional armies tracking the rebels, US officials say.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed since Kony took up arms in the late 1980s, initially against the Ugandan government.
The International Criminal Court has a warrant against Kony, one of the continent's most wanted men.
Driven out of Uganda, the guerrillas have since scattered across a vast region of the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, recruiting fighters from those nations over the years.
The LRA emerged from the frustrations of Uganda's marginalized Acholi ethnic group against the government, but its leaders have since dropped their national political agenda for the narrow objective of pillage and plunder.

Pakistan blames “Afghan commander” for Nato attack: BBC

KARACHI: According to a BBC report, Pakistan’s military officials on Monday blamed an Afghan commander for the November 26 Nato strike on Salala check post in Mohmand agency, DawnNews reported.
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported that the accused Afghan commander conspired on the instructions of Indian and Afghan intelligence to dismantle Pakistan’s ties with US and Nato.
According to the published report, Pakistani military officials were probing the incident on their own and also handed few details of the investigative report to their Nato counterparts across the border on Monday.
Pakistani officials demanded action against the accused Afghan National Army commander by Nato officials in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s investigative report did not indicate involvement of any American officials in the attack.
According to the report Afghani troops, without any prior notice, were patrolling an area at Pak-Afghan border which required 72 hours prior notice to Pakistani forces.
The troops deployed at Salala check post opened fire on Afghan patrol team considering them militants and subsequently Nato air defence helicopters, came to afghan team’s rescue, attacked the Pakistani post.
According to Pakistan officials, Afghans knew exact location of the post hence calling Nato for help was a pre-planned scheme.
However the ISPR rebuffed the BBC report calling it inaccurate.

N. Korea Test Fires Short-Range Missile

SEOUL, South Korea - North Korea test-fired a short-range missile off its east coast on Monday, the same day it announced the death of leader Kim Jong-Il, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said.
A WOMAN HANDS out free newspapers with an image of the late North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, in Hong Kong on Monday. North Korean state-run television announced today that Kim Jong-il died at the age of 69. (Aaron Tam / AFP via Getty Images)
The agency quoted an unnamed government official as saying the missile launch was unrelated to the announcement that Kim had died Saturday of a heart attack. "North Korea test-fired a short-range missile this morning ... it has been [closely] monitored by our military authorities," said the official, as quoted by Yonhap.
Seoul's defense ministry declined to confirm the report. The missile is believed to have a range of about 120 kilometres (72 miles), he said, adding the North was apparently trying to improve the weapon. North Korea has been testing its new KN-06 missile, a modified version of the KN-01 and KN-02 ground-to-ground missiles, Yonhap said.
The communist country has frequently conducted short-range missile tests in recent years. South Korean officials say they are part of routine exercises but the tests are sometimes timed to coincide with periods of tension.
South Korea put its military on alert as the North's state television announced that the 69-year-old leader had died.