Alas, poor Japan. They just cannot catch a break. First there was the "lost decade" of economic stagnation (now going on its third decade.) Then the earthquake-cum-tsunami-cum-nuclear meltdown. Now, on top of everything else, it seems the Japanese will likely get stuck with buying their second favorite fighter jet.

For years, Japan has tried to convince the U.S. Congress to sell it Lockheed Martin's (NYSE: LMT) F-22 Raptor warplane. As recently as two years ago, it looked like it might succeed -- U.S. concerns over export of sensitive weapons technology notwithstanding. But then, Congress canceled the F-22.

Now, with its favorite fighter verboten, Japan must choose between Boeing's (NYSE: BA) F/A-18 Super Hornet and Lockheed's other fifth-generation warplane, the F-35 Lightning II, to replace its aging fleet of F-4 Phantoms. The good news: America is not as concerned about transferring the F-35's technology as it was about the F-22. In an effort to cut Boeing out of the running, Lockheed has agreed to let Japan conduct final assembly of the F-35, if that's the plane Japan chooses to buy.

Foolish takeaway
Boeing isn't giving up easily. In fact, they've offered Japan the right to produce Super Hornets in-house if they like, through a "licensed production" agreement. But considering Japan had its heart set on a fifth-generation fighter all along, I doubt even this sweetener will make them settle for Boeing's fourth-gen bird.

Is Rich right? Will Lockheed land this multibillion-dollar foreign arms sale? Add it to your Fool watchlist and find out.

Fool contributor Rich Smith has no position in any stocks named above, but The Motley Fool owns shares of Lockheed Martin. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.