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Japan's Next-Gen Fighter Jet and the Future of its Defense 

Japan's next-gen fighter jet, increased collaborative efforts, and military spending signal a new, more proactive era in its defense strategy.



Image of the next fighter jet jointly developed by Japan, the UK, and Italy (provided by the Ministry of Defense)

Japan's next-gen fighter jet, increased collaborative efforts, and military spending signal a new, more proactive era in its defense strategy.    

The Japanese government's recent approval of exporting a next-gen fighter jet developed with Italy and Britain marks a significant milestone. It signals a new era in Japan's security outlook, emphasizing collaboration and innovation.  

This move represents a notable development, particularly following the Japanese Prime Minister's successful visit to the United States. Washington has been preoccupied with other parts of the world and would like to see Japan take a more prominent role concerning its security. Tokyo has already expressed its wish to be a "global partner" of the US.

Japan's Role and Future Prospects

The Global Combat Air Program (GCAP) is a joint effort between Japan, the United Kingdom, and Italy. This program aims to develop an advanced fighter jet to replace aging fleets. Initially, Japan was working on a domestic design known as the F-X. However, this later merged with the British-Italian Tempest program in December 2022. 

Technically, Japan can sell these latest-generation fighter jets to countries like India since it has signed defense deals with them. However, the devil will lie in the details. In the past, the deal to sell ShinMaywa US2 amphibious aircraft to India never went through for a host of reasons.

However, this could also pave the way for future collaboration between India and Japan in the not-too-distant future. After all, New Delhi is looking at rapid indigenization of its defense weaponry.

(Courtesy of the Ministry of Defense)

What Does it Mean for Japan?

It means that Japan is slowly heading toward a forward-looking defense posture that would have been unimaginable in the not-too-distant past. Only recently, Japan announced its plan to increase its defense budget to two percent of the GDP by 2027. This would make it the third biggest military spender in the world after the US and China.  

Meanwhile, China's growing military prowess worries Tokyo, especially as Beijing claims the Japanese-held Senkaku islands.  China now has the largest navy in terms of numbers, which is a big challenge for Japan. 


In addition, Japan also faces a threat on the northern front from Russia and North Korea.  Many a time in the past, North Korea has sent missiles flying over Japan. Hence, Japan's security scenario is precarious as it faces dangers from three nuclear-armed antagonistic neighbors. Tokyo, therefore, needs to focus on its own defenses.  


On the flip side, this could lead to an outcry from its neighbors, reigniting old regional tensions.

Japan has indicated that it will export aircraft only to countries with which it has already signed defense agreements. It will also not export aircraft to countries already engaged in conflicts.

However, this could be problematic since countries could enter a war after buying the fighter planes. Additionally, this could lead to tensions between the Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner, the Komeito. For now, the two parties have concluded the issue.

In addition, we will have to wait and watch how the US election proceeds. If Donald Trump were to come back to power in the US, he could make new demands from Japan. How far would Japan be willing to go to please a Trump administration if it were to come back to power?

Simply exporting fighter jets may not be enough, as Japan is legally prohibited from participating in offensive military operations. This may put more pressure on Japan in the future to participate in military operations worldwide. What if hostilities break out over Taiwan? Would Japan be willing to participate?

Tough Questions for Japan

Italy, Japan, and Britain are developing this aircraft together. If Tokyo abandons plans to export the fighter, they may consider it an unreliable partner.

However, this means it is indeed the dawn of a new era for Japan. This era started during the time of the former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Under his administration, the Japanese Parliament passed laws allowing the Self-Defense Forces to aid its allies like the US. These laws apply even when Japan is not directly under attack.


On the positive side, it will give a fillip to Japan's domestic defense industry, which has been relegated to the sidelines. The global arms market is huge by any standards.  

This may also open the doors for more defense exports from Japan to other countries. Many nations, especially in Southeast Asia, have borne the brunt of aggression from China, especially countries like the Philippines. Japan has already been giving military equipment to countries like the Philippines.

There is still time since these jets will not come into service before 2035. What is certain, though, is that there will be no going back for Japan now that it has agreed to turn a corner. Decisions in Japan take time, but this one marks a major step forward for Japan.


Author: Rupakjyoti Borah
Dr Rupakjyoti Borah is a Senior Research Fellow with the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies in Tokyo. The views expressed are personal.