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.
Tokyo aims to replace the Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s (JASDF’s) Mitsubishi F-2 fighter aircraft with a future fighter in the 2030s.
After a months long contest between America’s Lockheed Martin Corporation and Boeing Company and Britain’s BAE Systems to develop a sixth generation air superiority fighter for the Japanese Air Self Defence Force, Japan has reportedly refused all Western proposals and plans to develop the next generation fighter based primarily on domestic technologies.
The fighter, dubbed ‘F-3,’ will replace the F-2 ‘4+ generation’ lightweight platform and provide a heavier counterpart to the F-35A single-engine fifth-generation jet with superior air to air capabilities.
Excluding Western designs places Japan’s own Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in a strong position to develop a next-generation fighter, with the company already having developed a flyable technology demonstrator for next-generation aircraft – the Shinshin X-2.
A source quoted by British media outlet Reuters stated regarding progress on an indigenous platform that “Japan’s stealth designs have performed well in tests so far.”
The contract for a next generation fighter is estimated at around $40 billion, and is one of several sixth generation programs being pursued alongside the American F-X, Air Dominance Fighter and Penetrating Counter Air Fighter, the Russian MiG-41 and multiple unnamed Chinese programs.
While European states have embarked on sixth-generation programs of their own, their lack of experience with fifth or even ‘4++ generation’ jets and serious issues with their defence sector makes their ability to pursue such an aircraft highly questionably.
Japan has produced two major classes of combat jet since the Second World War, the F-1 attack jet loosely based on the British Jaguar and the F-2 lightweight multirole fighter which is closely based on the American F-16 Fighting Falcon.
Japan purchased 200 F-15J Eagle fourth generation air superiority fighters and over 100 F-4E Phantom II with a similar role from the previous generation – the majority of which were built under licence. Japan plans to order over 100 F-35 fifth generation fighters, the majority of which will also be built under licence in the country.
While the F-1 has long since been retired from service, the F-35 will phase out remaining F-4 jets and a portion of the F-15 fleet out of service with the remaining F-15s upgraded to a ‘4+ generation’ standard.
The F-3, which will is expected to enter service in the early 2030s, will then phase both the F-2 and remaining F-15s out of service – leaving Japan with two fighter classes. Shifting geopolitical trends, the recent decline of Western economies and closer Japanese ties to a fast-rising China may in part be behind the move to push Western parties out of the F-3 program, which if relying on domestic technologies will provide Japanese air units with an unprecedented level of independence since its reliance on Western systems was fostered in the aftermath of the country’s defeat in 1945.