WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is waiting for Japan to sign a security pact as a prelude to sales talks on Lockheed Martin Corp’s (LMT.N) new F-35 fighter jets, a senior U.S. Defense Department official said.
Separately, the next step in a proposed $2.5 billion, 20-plane F-35 sale to Israel could come as soon as mid-September, though that date may slip, the deputy head of the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) told the Reuters Aerospace and Defense Summit in Washington on Thursday.
Japan wants information “above and beyond” what is normally provided about the radar-evading aircraft, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter, or JSF, the agency’s No. 2 official, Richard Genaille, said.
“They are going to have to enter into a JSF security agreement with us,” he said. “The ball is in their court right now in terms of looking at the draft agreement. And so we’re waiting to hear back from them.”
The United States co-developed the F-35 with eight foreign partners — Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway. Together, the core group is projected to buy about 730 planes.
Israel would be the first buyer outside the co-development partners. The deal has been held up by, among other things, a tug-of-war over Israel’s preference for building in its own electronic warfare, communications and other systems.
Genaille voiced a continuing U.S. reluctance to fiddle with the F-35 even though a top Pentagon program official last year had spoken of stitching in Israeli-built command, control, communications, computer and intelligence systems for a unique version of the jet for sale to Israel.
“The F-35 is a system where all these subsystems are fused and integrated,” Genaille told the summit. “And integrating something that wasn’t originally planned in the design will be very costly and will take a significant amount of time.”
Moreover, it “probably will not be in the best interest in the long run of our partners,” he added.
Jon Schreiber, who heads the F-35 international program for the Pentagon, told Reuters last November that the United States was ready to add some Israeli systems and munitions had a deal been signed in the then-coming months.
Genaille said he did not have high confidence that Israel would move ahead as soon as the middle of this month, “but supposedly that’s the time we’re expecting.”
“I know this is a controversial thing for them,” he said. Dropping plans for incorporating electronic warfare systems would be a significant switch for Israel, which bought modified U.S.-built F-15s and F-16s to incorporate such know-how.
The Pentagon’s total arms sales are expected to total $37.9 billion in fiscal 2010, down from an estimated $40.5 billion in fiscal 2009, Genaille said.
He said President Barack Obama’s administration is working out details of a widely reported multibillion-dollar sale of fighter jets and helicopters to Saudi Arabia.
Excluding the Saudi arms sale, foreign military sales in fiscal 2011, which begins October 1, are expected to be at least on par with this year’s level, he said.
Asked if he could confirm a July prediction by former DSCA Director Vice Admiral Jeffrey Wieringa that sales could reach $50 billion in fiscal 2011, Genaille said: “I don’t count my chickens before they’re hatched.”
Genaille said the United States has spent all but $10.1 million of $3.6 billion authorized for the Afghan security forces, and expects to spend the rest before the end of the fiscal year.
The plan was to boost the number of Mi-17 helicopters owned and operated by Afghanistan to 56 from 35, which would help the Afghan military be more effective in moving around a country that has scant transportation infrastructure.
Reporting by Jim Wolf; additional reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa, editing by Gerald E. McCormick