Japan’s F-X and F-XX: two separate aircraft?

JASDF F-4.jpgAt the recent Paris Air Show I tagged along to a presentation byBoeing about Japan‘sF-X requirement for 40-50 fighters to replace Japan Air Self Defense ForceMcDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantoms. The briefing provided an opportunity to ask aquestion that has nagged me for sometime: why did Boeing offer the F/A-18 E/FSuper Hornet as opposed to the more capable and stealthier F-15 Silent Eagle

Boeing told me that Japan simply did not want too manyaircraft of the same type. JASDF already operates a large force of F-15Js, soany major problem with F-15s in general could paralyse its air defences. Boeingalso told me that Japanseemed mainly interested in the air-to-air mission, and that stealth was one ofthe factors listed in April’s F-X RFP.

Many observers seem to assume that the winner of the F-Xrequirement has a good chance of winning the F-XX competition to replace Japan‘s over200 F-15Js. But if Tokyois uncomfortable having too many aircraft of a single type, then it seemslikely that the F-X and F-XX will be two different aircraft.

The contenders for F-X are the Super Hornet, Lockheed MartinF-35 Lightning II, and Eurofighter Typhoon. Of this trio only the F-35 has thestealth capabilities that Japanhas long coveted. On the other hand the programme is much delayed, furtherdelays cannot be ruled out, the F-35 will not be as affordable as planned, andJapanese export laws mean Tokyowould not benefit fully from partnering in the programme. This at a time when Japan‘s economyis moribund, and likely to stay that way owing to unfavourable demographics.

JASDF F-15.jpg

What this means is that the F-35, despite its stealthiness,could be a relatively unattractive option for the near term F-X competition. Itis probably too expensive and unlikely to be available by the 2016 deliverytimeframe specified by the RFP. And if there are more major delays in theF-35′s development, then the JASDF could be stuck with its obsolete Phantomsuntil the 2020s. 

The cheapest, fastest option for F-X is therefore probablythe Super Hornet. The aircraft has been produced for years, the US navy isbuying more, and there is great scope for industrial participation. In short itis a known quantity that can tide the JASDF and Japan industry over until thenation can deploy a true stealth platform in the shape of the F-XX.

As for F-XX, Japan couldre-visit the F-35. By the middle of this decade a clearer picture will haveemerged about the costs of maintaining and operating the aircraft. And, withluck, the economies of scale so heavily touted at the programme’s inception mayhave started to emerge.

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One Response to Japan’s F-X and F-XX: two separate aircraft?

  1. keesje 7 July, 2011 at 5:45 pm #

    I think the Japanese will keep pressuring for F22′s.
    Mounting piles of Flankers and J-20′s don’t go unnoticed. “Research” showing the western types will easily beat them anyhow are for patriotic consumption but not a basis for objective evaluations and realistic planning for the next 25 years.

    Before Lockheed Martin closes the F22 final assembly line and takes down its supply chain (including Boeing) I think w’ll hear more.. You have principles, J-20′s, jobs & billions..

    And then Japan could choose a more active approach towards F-XX

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