TOKYO Japan plans to postpone buying next-generation fighter aircraft to replace part of its ageing air force fleet because the United States is unwilling to export its state-of-the-art F-22 stealth fighter, a newspaper said on Monday.
The Lockheed Martin Corp fighter, also known as the Raptor, boasts stealth capabilities far superior to any of its rivals, but the U.S. Congress has opposed its export, even to allies such as Japan, for security reasons.
Japan's Defence Minister Shigeru Ishiba told Reuters in October the ministry was considering other options, in particular the Eurofighter, built by a consortium including BAE Systems
Instead, the English-language Daily Yomiuri reported, it will focus on updating existing F-15 fighters and postpone the purchase of new planes until after 2010.
Ministry officials were not available for comment.
U.S. reluctance to sell the F-22 to Japan is likely related to a scandal over leaked data relating to a missile defence system used by both countries, in which a naval officer was arrested last week, domestic media said.
Japan's defence procurement system is also under a cloud after last month's arrest of the ministry's former top bureaucrat, who has admitted accepting hundreds of golf trips and other gifts from a defence contractor.
(Reporting by Isabel Reynolds; Editing by Mike Miller)