TOKYO, Jan. 18 (Xinhua) -- Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara said Tuesday that Japan and the United States have reached a confidentiality agreement on the F-35 fighter jet, which is highly likely to become the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force's main next- generation fighter replacing its outdated F-4 fleet.
According to Maehara, he and U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos exchanged documents on the security of confidential information on the F-35 fifth-generation multirole fighter system.
The F-35 family of single-engine, single-seat "stealth" fighters descends from the X-35 program -- itself a product of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program which has been principally funded by the U.S., with the United Kingdom and other partner governments providing additional funding.
Sources close to the matter said that the Japanese government has budgeted around 600 million yen (7.27 million U.S. dollars) for research costs on the F-35 system in its fiscal 2011 budget and will, in fiscal 2012, seek to have the funds secured to purchase Japan's next generation fighter jet fleet.
Japan was initially eyeing the U.S.'s twin-engined F-22 Raptor - - a fifth-generation stealth and air superiority multirole fighter. However the U.S. export ban on its highly classified technology made this prohibitive.
Although the government now sees the F-35 as its strongest candidate, it is also looking into other options which include the multirole, single-engine Eurofighter and the somewhat aged carrier- capable F/A-18 Hornet from the U.S.