Boeing and Lockheed Martin to enter competition to replace Mitsubishi/McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom

Boeing and Lockheed Martin are preparing to contest a new-generation Japanese fighter requirement that could kick off as early as next year and conclude with the selection of a replacement for the Mitsubishi/McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom in 2006.

Lockheed Martin displayed at this month's Japan Aerospace 2004 exhibition a mock-up of a new multirole configuration of the Lockheed Martin/Mitsubishi F-2, dubbed the Super Kai. Japan has also received its first briefing on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and has expressed interest in possibly acquiring the Lockheed Martin F/A-22 Raptor. Boeing believes its F-15 or F-18 could potentially meet the F-X requirement.

The Japan Defence Agency will establish an F-X team next January if the project is included in its new five-year budget, to run from April 2005.

The team will formulate a requirement and launch aircraft evaluations next year, followed by a selection in 2006. Funding would run from 2008, with deliveries to start in 2012-13. However, Japan could also choose in December to delay the programme by five years until 2010, say Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

With Japan mulling the early termination of F-2 production, Lockheed Martin and Mitsubishi earlier this year began discussing updates to ensure the design's survival (Flight International, 17-23 August). Mitsubishi has so far delivered 53 F-2s from an original requirement for 130 aircraft, but Lockheed Martin F-2 programme director James Shidler says this total has already reduced to about 100 and that further cuts are possible.

The existing F-2, similar to the F-16 Block 40, was designed for air-to-air duties and close-in sea-land surveillance.

More similar to a Block 50 F-16, the Super Kai would feature new equipment, including a helmet-mounted cueing system, conformal fuel tanks, advanced mission computer and an active electronically scanned array radar. The aircraft would also carry an advanced targeting pod and laser and GPS-guided weapons.

The proposed F-2 Super Kai is a low-risk, cost-effective solution that provides "a very logical bridge to their next-generation fighter", says Lockheed Martin vice-president Ted Samples.

Boeing Japan fighter programme manager Martin Luther says "both the F-15 and F-18 would be viable contenders" if the F-X programme is launched in the next five-year plan. Tokyo could also opt for the JSF or F/A-22, although these are considered long shots because of its traditional preference for co-produced or licence-built fighters.

The new systems also may be too expensive for Japan's defence budget and may not be approved for export in time to meet its requirements.

However, a decision to delay the F-X project until the five-year plan starting April 2010 could make the JSF or F/A-22 more viable.


Source: Flight International