WASHINGTON: Japanese Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma has asked U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates for more information about the F-22 fighter jet built by Lockheed Martin Corp., a senior Japanese official said on Tuesday.br /U.S. law currently bans any exports of the F-22 Raptor, but some lawmakers and defense officials say there is growing interest in making it possible to export a modified version of the advanced fighter to close allies such as Japan.br /”If we make the F-22 a candidate, we need full information on this air fighter,” said the official, who asked not to be named.br /Japanese military officials are eyeing the supersonic F-22, the U.S. Air Force’s main air superiority fighter, as part of their response to growing regional missile threats.br /The Japanese official said Kyuma discussed the F-22 with Gates during their meeting on Monday, saying Japan would need more data on the fighter jet’s specifications so it could be formally considered in an upcoming competition.br /Kyuma asked Gates “to provide us with more information so that we may proceed,” the official said.br /Japan is aware of U.S. congressional concerns about protecting the F-22’s classified technologies, he added.br /But resistance to exports appears to be weakening, according to U.S. congressional officials and analysts.br /The House of Representatives last year voted to remove the export ban on the F-22, which is attached to the annual defense appropriations legislation, but the measure was reinserted during conference negotiations with the Senate.br /The issue is important to Lockheed and its F-22 partners — Boeing Co. and United Technologies Corp.’s Pratt amp; Whitney unit — because overseas sales could extend the production line beyond 2011, when the last of the 183 Raptors currently planned is due to be sent to the U.S. Air Force.br /One senior U.S. defense official told Reuters on Tuesday that there was a growing feeling “that this be the right time to look at it,” although he cautioned that there were no concrete plans to move ahead at this point.br /Advocates for foreign sales had not yet reached “a critical mass,” said the official, who asked not to be named.br /Air Force Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Kohler, who heads the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency, also warned last week that designing an export version of the F-22 could cost more than $1 billion and be “prohibitively expensive” for any would-be foreign buyer.br /The aircraft, which entered the U.S. combat fleet in December 2005 after 20 years of development, currently costs $136 million per copy, not including development costs.br /The first F-22 overseas deployment was to Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, Japan, this year. Twelve are still in the region.br /Loren Thompson, a defense analyst close to the Pentagon and to military contractors, said the F-22’s ability to fly at supersonic speeds meant it was uniquely suited to chasing down cruise missiles that could be directed at Japan.br /The F-22 would be an integral part of any future missile defense architecture involving Japan, said Thompson, of the Virginia-based Lexington Institute.br /Israel is also widely reported to have shown interest in acquiring the F-22.

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