Japan may buy Eurofighter, defence minister says

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TOKYO, Oct 17 (Reuters) Japan is considering buying Eurofighter Typhoons to replace part of its ageing air force fleet, Defence Minister Shigeru Ishiba said in an interview today.

Tokyo had shown interest in buying the Lockheed-Martin F-22 Raptor, which boasts stealth capabilities far superior to those of any other aircraft available, but the US government is reluctant to allow the technology to be exported, even to a close ally such as Japan.

''The F-22 is an exceptional aircraft,'' Ishiba said. ''But we at the Defence Ministry have not decided that it is absolutely necessary for Japan.'' Ishiba said the strongest alternative among planes manufactured by other countries was the Eurofighter.

''The French Rafale is difficult to use. We certainly wouldn't choose a Russian fighter plane. So I think it would be the Eurofighter Typhoon,'' he said.

The Eurofighter is built by a consortium including BAE Systems, Airbus parent firm EADS and Alenia Aeronautica, a unit of Italy's Finmeccanica Ishiba denied that US reluctance to export the F-22 to Japan was linked to a leak of classified information relating to the joint US-Japanese ballistic missile defence system. But he said Tokyo nevertheless needed to improve its handling of classified data.

A scandal erupted this year when Japanese naval officers were reported to have leaked classified information about the Aegis radar system used on US and Japanese missile-defence capable ships.

''It is a fact that Aegis information was leaked. So I feel strongly that Japan's information management system is not good enough,'' Ishiba said, adding that tougher penalties and more reliable ways of detecting leaks were needed.

REUTERS PD BD1620

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