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If America had really clever negotiators, they would coax Japan into taking over the Panama Canal.

It would be a good deal for them. Japan's Yakuza, or mafia, would know how to deal with General Noriega.

Our government, hard-pressed to pay its debts to Japan, would save the millions it costs to defend the canal.

Japan will soon have another area of industrial primacy, thanks to a giveaway by Presidents Reagan and Bush and last week's vote in the Senate. A bare majority of the Senate last week voted to hand Japan generations of our aerospace technology.

The Senate unfortunately rebuffed a four-month campaign by Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato, N.Y., to block a so-called co-production deal in which American and Japanese industries would jointly build an advanced fighter plane -- the FSX.

The plane would be made of composite materials, like plastics, and have advanced radar and avionics.

In the debate, D'Amato quoted his father, a World War II veteran, as saying the FSX deal was "like Pearl Harbor without bombs." This is sort of an exaggeration.

The FSX is a sneak attack. But not by Japan. That country has made it very clear that it intends to be a world leader in aerospace technology and manufacture. The FSX deal was made on tip-toes by lame-duck Ronald Reagan last November to placate Japan's regiments of Washington lobbyists.

Japan spends about $100 million a year lobbying the U.S. government, according to Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo. These lobbyists have provided the political cover for Japanese raids on American factories and jobs. The sole industrial sector Japan hadn't colonized was our defense industry.

The basic fighter plane Japan makes contains Korean War technology, similar to the old Sabrejet, the plane that you see rusting on Legion Post lawns.

Under Reagan's simple-minded FSX edict, Japan would buy into all the critical aerospace technology paid for by the Defense Department and NASA over the past two decades.

D'Amato was shocked and began pressuring the Bush administration to take another look at it. Bush came up with what he called an improved pact, calling for more American contracts than the original deal. But there are no firm guarantees, and the basic documents have not been made public.

primacy in aerospace technology
In February, D'Amato began investigating the claims the Defense Department and Bush were making about what we'd get out of it. Chief among the looked-for benefits was technology "flow-back" from Japan. D'Amato asked the General Accounting Office to investigate these come-ons.

GAO demolished the "flow-back" myth. The U.S. is actually far ahead of Japan in plastic aircraft parts, the GAO reported. NASA developed some 12 years ago, and they are still in use. GAO told D'Amato that Japan is far behind the U.S. in development of phase-array radar, the kind that sees over the horizon. We don't need Japanese aerospace technology, GAO told D'Amato.

The most troubling aspect of this deal is one that few members want to debate publicly, perhaps out of courtesy to information that Congress perceives as classified. It is what aerospace mavens refer to as "the little black box" aboard the F-16 fighter, which would be the starting point for design of the FSX.

The black box is something that the Japanese can't "re-engineer," by dismantling, analyzing and duplicating. It is a most secret and highly sophisticated computer system on the F-16. It is the integrated (computer) system, that has enabled the F-16 to amass in combat a 50-to-O kill ratio.

The box runs the plane's "fly-by-wire" system. This translates the touch of a pilot's fingers, and the movement of his eyes, into computer codes and subtle electrical signals that command the plane's hydraulic system.

There is no way the Japanese can re-engineer this box without the getting at the computer source codes which generate the sophisticated object codes that command the integrated avionics system. D'Amato wanted the White House to safeguard these computer codes. Bush responded that the Japanese will receive access "only to those codes necessary to complete the project."

This empty-headed response of course offers no barrier at all. All Japan has to say is the codes are needed to complete the project and they're theirs.

It is remarkable that D'Amato, battling the entire administration, Japan Inc., and such internationalist snobs as Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., only lost by a handful of votes. It did prompt the Senate to amend the deal by insisting that the U.S. get 40 per cent of the production. But the technology is out of the barn. And that's what the Japanese want, fast and cheap.

Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., very reluctantly went along with the deal, yielding on balance to White House claims that the deal's collapse would precipitate a diplomatic crisis with Japan. We have to respect Moynihan's strong track record on international affairs.

But there is a growing belief that the U.S. has been on the losing end of an unbroken economic crisis with Japan for a decade.

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