Japan has said that it will not pursue “derivatives” of existing fighter aircraft with international partners as its next fighter jet and instead opt for a new clean sheet design, although it is still open to international collaboration for the development of some vital components.

In response to questions from DRA, the Japanese Ministry of Defense’s Acquisitions, Technology and Logistics (ATLA) said that following discussions with companies from the U.S. and U.K, it has decided that “the option of ‘developing derivatives of existing fighters’ cannot be a candidate from the perspective of Japan-led development, and MOD has come to the conclusion that we will develop a new model”.

This follows earlier proposals from a number of defence companies offering Japan the possibility of developing existing designs as its next generation fighter, with Lockheed-Martin offering what was touted as an “F-22/F-35 hybrid”.

The decision leaves Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) in pole position to develop a new fighter, which Japan is seeking to replace approximately 90 Mitsubishi F-2s from 2030 onwards. Although the 10-year timeline might sound ambitious, it must be noted that as ATLA has said above, it has done a lot of development work on fighter design behind the scenes for a decade.

ATLA noted that Japan has spent 227.7 billion yen (US$2.1 b) since 2009 in the research and development of a future fighter, and has “accumulating and upgrading a series of fighter-related technologies such as air frames, engines and avionics necessary for a fighter development, and successfully accumulated the technologies necessary for launching a fighter development in Japan.”

This included building a technology demonstrator aircraft which flew a series of test flights over the last decade, validating a number of concepts and components for the fighter program.

However ATLA stressed that there was still scope for collaboration with foreign partners on a number of fronts, pointing out that “regarding the development of individual components such as engines and radars, it’s not necessary for Japan to do all of the development works alone, and it is important to further improve technological reliability and reduce cost by having partner nations share some of the development work”, although the key principle of “Japan-led development” will still be adhered to.

Japan is already the biggest export customer for the Lockheed-Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, with plans to acquire 147 F-35A and Bs to replace its fleet of MacDonnell Douglas/MHI F-4EJ Phantom IIs and older F-15J/DJ Eagles.

It also plans to operate its F-35B Short Take-off Vertical Landing (STOVL) aircraft off its Izumo-class helicopter destroyers, with plans underway to modify the ships’ flight decks to operate the F-35B.



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