Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Lockheed Martin, Mitsubishi To Jointly Build Next Generation F-X Fighter Jet For Japan

Japan has once again decided to partner with US defense giant Lockheed Martin with the help of Tokyo-based Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) to build its next-generation fighter jet, F-X or F-3,

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The F-X fighter program will cost around $40 billion; and the new fighter will replace Japan’s aging fleet of F-2 fighters, which were also developed by MHI and Lockheed Martin two decades ago. 

Lockheed Martin was an expected pick as the company proposed a hybrid design based on its F-35 and F-22 jets, reported Reuters. American companies including Boeing and Northrop Grumman and British BAE Systems and Rolls Royce had also shown interest in the program.

The F-X program was announced by Japan’s Defense Ministry on October 30 as one of the high priority areas that need urgent attention by the newly appointed PM Yoshihide Suga and his cabinet. The new fighter jets will be supplemented by the US F-35s. 

Japan today is facing an increasing threat from China’s expansionist claims on the Japanese-held islands. North Korea is also a major adversary and Tokyo has finally decided to upgrade its capabilities to strike the enemy territory, if necessary. 

Earlier, Tokyo announced the plan to procure 147 F-35 jets which would replace the F-16 warplanes. As the Trump administration is working to counter China’s expansionist strategy, Washington had approved the sale of 105 F-35 worth $23 billion under the Joint Strike Fighter aircraft program.

The Japanese Defence Ministry has sought a whopping ¥5.49 trillion ($55 billion) budget for fiscal 2021. A dispute between China and Japan looks imminent as both the countries lay claim to the Senkaku / Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea.

Beijing expressed concern about having such advanced jets in the region which could be detrimental to the security of both China and Russia. China also fears that Tokyo will amend its peaceful constitution at the behest of the US, its key defense partner, and become a hostile force.  

The Defense Ministry designated MHI as the primary contractor due to its vast experience in the production of combat aircraft as per the needs of the nation and has already produced the F-2 multi-role fighter and F-1 Supersonic strike aircraft. The new fighter jet is expected to have multirole capabilities. Along with stealth, the fighter will be able to target both land and sea-based targets.

Long-Standing Partnership

The multi-role, single-engine fighter aircraft produced for the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF), F-2, was produced by MHI and Lockheed Martin in a 60/40 split in manufacturing between Japan and the US. Developed in the mid-1980s and produced in the 1990s, the F-2 was based on one of America’s most successful fighters — F-16 Fighting Falcon. 

File:Mitsubishi F-2 fighter 04.jpg
Mitsubishi F-2 fighter

According to Lockheed Martin, F-2 is capable of both air-to-air and air-to-surface roles though it is optimized for the latter role, to protect Japan’s sea lanes. Many of the aircraft’s innovative systems, including the fly-by-wire flight control system and integrated electronic warfare system, were developed in Japan. The F-2 was also the first production fighter to be equipped with an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar.

After successfully serving for decades, the F-2 is set to be succeeded by a new fighter by 2035, manufactured by the same American and Japanese partnership. 

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