By Jay Menon
Japan is pressing ahead with its plans to build one of the world’s most sophisticated stealth jet fighters, with the first prototype expected in fiscal 2024 and mass production in fiscal 2031.
The Japanese defence ministry officials will expedite talks with their US and British counterparts about how to cooperate on the development of the new F-X supersonic fighter jet.
Currently, Tokyo is discussing cost sharing and the extent of technology the foreign firms can provide, among other issues.
The first production aircraft could roll out of Mitsubishi Heavy Industry’s factory in 2030. Mitsubishi, which has produced all of Japan’s modern fighters—usually under license from a foreign firm—will build the new aircraft.
Japan will lead the development of the new stealth fighter, which could replace the Air Self-Defense Force’s single engine F-2 aircraft. The ageing fleet of about 100 F-2s jets are scheduled to be retired from 2035.
Japan has earmarked US$256.5 million in fiscal year 2020 for “F-X related research projects” and “conceptual design in Japan-led development.”
The proposed aircraft is likely to be a twin-engine, with an ability to sync missile targeting between multiple aircraft, known as integrated fire control or network shooting.
The country’s fiscal 2020 defence budget said more than US$261 million (28 billion yen) had been set aside for the programme, known as the F-X, including money to develop drones that could operate with the stealth jets, a technology also being developed in Australia and the U.S.
Mitsubishi is trying to get Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing and BAE Systems to get involved in the ambitious project, estimated to cost US$40 billion. The company developed Japan’s stealth fighter technology demonstrator, the X-2, in 2016.
According to Japan’s Acquisition, Logistics and Technology Agency (ALTA), the aircraft is also likely to possess internal weapons bays, like those seen on American F-22 stealth jets. The engines could be Japan’s equivalent of the Pratt & Whitney F119 turbofan engine that powers the F-22.
The defence ministry is expected to set guidelines for the development within this month (July) and select domestic manufacturers by the end of the year, according to Japanese government officials.
The Defense Ministry presented the draft schedule at a meeting of a group of lawmakers from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party on July 7.
Collaboration with the US would help Japan secure operational interchangeability with its ally. Britain plans to develop a new fighter jet on a schedule similar to Japan.
Since World War II, Japan has produced only two combat aircraft including the now-retired 1975 F1 and the 2006 F-2.
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