Japan’s 2019 Mid-Term Defense review quietly revealed that after years of hesitation, Tokyo has decided to press ahead with the development of its own domestically designed sixth-generation Mitsubishi F-3 air-superiority stealth fighter, rather than purchasing an additional foreign stealth design to supplement its growing fleet of F-35s.
The Japanese Ministry of Defense’s (MoD’s) Acquisition, Technology & Logistics Agency (ATLA) has confirmed to Jane’s that it plans to pursue a Japan-led development project of a next-generation fighter aircraft, rejecting proposals by foreign manufacturers, including the one by Lockheed Martin to develop a new stealthy aircraft by combining elements of the F-22 and F-35 fifth-generation fighters.
Japan’s government and its ruling Liberal Democratic Party are reportedly considering exporting the country’s upcoming F-3 sixth generation air superiority fighter, and have entered discussion for this purpose.
Tokyo recently ended plans to pursue the program jointly with either U.S. or British partners, despite Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems all showing considerable interest in such a project.
The next-generation fighter is expected to provide a long-awaited replacement for the country’s F-15J Eagles, which Japan was unable to phase out of service due to U.S. refusal to export F-22 Raptors to the country. The aircraft will have a twin-engine configuration and form a complement to the lighter and cheaper F-35 jets – which are primarily intended for a strike role.
The aircraft is expected to enter service in the 2030s to replace Japan’s F-2 and F-15J fourth-generation fighters, and will at least partly bridge the gap with neighboring China and Russia which have deployed their own next-generation designs such as the J-20 and are developing more ambitious sixth generation jets such as the MiG-41.
Potential export clients for a high-end sixth generation air superiority fighter are manifold and could include other F-15 operators such as Singapore, Israel, and Saudi Arabia
. Developing the jet independently without reliance on Western technologies will provide Japan with much more freedom to export the aircraft as it pleases.