Japan has opened talks with Western defense contractors about building a new generation of fighter jets, sources say, in what would mark an important milestone in Tokyo’s strategy to maintain its air superiority over rival China.
The discussions with defense companies including Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Ltd come as Japan readies its ATD-X experimental aircraft for its first test flights within days.
Stealth fighter technologies being tested on the ATD-X, being developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) and the Japanese Ministry of Defense’s Technical Research and Development Institute, would also be incorporated into the new fighter, dubbed the F-3, industry and government sources said.
“They have begun exploratory engagement to look at our capabilities,” said a source with a Western defense contractor. “There is no policy decision and no program of record for the next fighter. There is only some discussion that, logically, there will be a fighter at some point.”
Analysts estimate the cost of such a program at $40 billion or more, a price tag that could yet prove prohibitive.
Japan has already committed to buying 42 Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. But that aircraft’s perceived shortcomings in air-to-air combat and the United States’ refusal to sell its Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor have encouraged Japan to consider a domestic-led program to replace its fleet of aging Boeing F-15J warplanes.
Plans are likely to be firmed by end-2017 or early 2018, which would enable the F-3 program to secure funding in Japan’s 2018-2022 five-year plan and be in service by around 2030, the sources added.
Upgrades to a large portion of over 150 aging Japan Air Self Defence Force F-15Js, to incorporate new engines and radars among other advanced capabilities, could proceed while research into the F-3 program continues, said the sources. Read More