The Japanese government plans to replace the aging F-2 fighter jets of the Japan Air Self Defense Force (ASDF) by 2035 (Reiwa 17) and a final decision on the country Japan will partner with in the joint development program will be made by the end of 2020.
The Medium-Term Defense Program the government drew up in 2018 covering a span of five years from fiscal 2019 called explicitly for “Japan-led developmental project” of an F-2 successor as a basic principle of the project. Manufacturing of the prototype is projected to begin in 2024.
Earlier this year, the government reached a policy decision in favor of establishing a joint working group composed of companies from the two countries of Japan and the United States.
The Defense Ministry is also in talks with the U.K. about the potential details of a joint Japan-led project.
Tokyo will make a final decision later this year on which country to partner with for the project.
Unlike its predecessor, the ASDF next-generation mainstay fighter aircraft will be developed as Japan’s first domestically produced fighter with international participation. It would include an advanced stealth sensor that would be almost invisible to radar.
Other key elements of the plan call for the design to focus on efficiency for air-to-air combat, with features such as low observability, combat capability within the Self Defense Force network, and interoperability with the U.S. military. Design development is expected to begin during the current fiscal year (to March 31, 2021)
The plan calls for the next generation planes to start being deployed from 2035 when the 90 or so F-2s will begin phasing out. In the fiscal 2020 national budget, about 28 billion yen has been earmarked to put in motion an initial stage of designing the envisioned fighter system.
Pluses and Minuses to Joint Development with Both Countries
Britain has had plans to develop a new type of fighter jet around the same time as Japan’s next-generation fighter development program. The Japanese government was then inclined initially to undertake the joint development plan with Britain on the belief that a joint Japanese-British program, compared to a Japan-U.S. one, might make it easier for Japan to push ahead with the program with Japan playing a leading role.
In addition, Brexit makes it less likely that the U.K. will insist on other European cooperation in such a project, which is thought to make the Tokyo government more comfortable.
On the other hand, interoperability with the U.S. is one of the requisites of the program and a series of in-depth consultations have been held between the Japanese and U.S. governments since late 2019, centering around:
- Shared perception of threats from Chinese territorial expansionism;
- Ideas on ways of using F-2’s successor fighter aircraft, including Japan-U.S. interoperability;
- Specifics regarding business-to-business cooperation.
Japan uses its fighter jets primarily to help maintain its own border security.
In the end, the Japanese government is expected to select a partner that makes it easier for Japan to ensure its leading role in the project while advancing defense cooperation, and that at the same time allows close relations to be maintained with both countries.
Author: JAPAN Forward