Reports of the F-22's demise (may) have been exaggerated. Ever since Defense Secretary Gates signed the death certificate for Lockheed Martin's (NYSE: LMT ) vaunted air superiority fighter, analysts have been busy factoring the lost revenues into their valuations for the stock.
Well, it may be time to break out the pencils and protractors again, folks. Turns out, the F-22 is back in the running for as many as 60 new jets -- and maybe more.
Last week, we discussed efforts by Senate defense subcommittee chairman Daniel Inouye to revive plans to sell a modified F-22 to Japan. With North Korea's dictator testing nukes and tossing rockets into the Sea of Japan, things are heating up in Asia this summer. The Japanese hope that five dozen F-22s will enable their Air Self-Defense Force to counter the Peninsular threat, and Inouye's inclined to oblige them.
According to Reuters, our own Air Force is on board, too, and sources indicate that Defense Secretary Gates is being pushed to buy more "Raptors" for the U.S. Air Force as well.
A billion here, $15 billion there ...
Well, there's one big problem with the plan to export the thing. You know the old saying: "A billion here, a billion there ... "? As it turns out, preparing the F-22 for export could cost Japan real money. You see, Congress forbade exporting the F-22 to even allied countries back in 1998, deeming the plane's technology too advanced to risk it falling into the wrong hands.
Understanding U.S. concerns, Japan has offered to pay up to $1 billion to "dumb down" the planes for export. In addition, current estimates put Japan's per-plane cost at $250 million a plane, significantly higher than the $150 million paid by the Air Force for its most recent batch of fighters. Call me crazy, but I wonder if Japan might not balk at the prospect of paying 67% over sticker price for the privilege of buying an inferior product.
A modest suggestion
Still, there are possible solutions to the dilemma. For example, redesign costs could drop "considerably" if Lockheed did not also need to restart production from scratch years after the last U.S. F-22 is built next year. This would most likely entail the U.S. continuing production on a small number of F-22s for its own aircraft fleet to bridge the gap until any export ban to Japan is lifted.
As a fringe benefit, this would mean billions in extra U.S. revenue for Lockheed and partners Boeing (NYSE: BA ) and United Tech (NYSE: UTX ) . Even suppliers producing less noteworthy components, such as Raytheon (NYSE: RTN ) -- which produces the plane's "brains," or integrated processor -- could see large benefits from additional add-on orders that, when combined with Japan's requests, could total more than a third of current production.
Or, if Gates won't budge on the issue of U.S. buying, how about we let Japan have our high-tech secrets, and take some of their technology in trade? Maybe Honda would be willing to part with a few ASIMO robots? Or Toyota could lend us its recipe for building cars without going bankrupt? (That alone could save us $50 billion.)
All kidding aside, we have seen worse deals lately.
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