JAPAN'S DEFENCE Agency (JDA) has renewed its push for development of the tandem-seat TFS-X advanced trainer variant of the Mitsubishi FS-X support fighter as a way of extending aircraft production and cutting unit costs.

The agency has unveiled plans to order a total of 141 aircraft by 2007, of which 83 will be single-seat FS-X fighters. The remaining 58 aircraft will consist of TFS-X trainers and a small number of two-seat FS-X operational conversion aircraft.

It is unclear what, if any, design modifications the TFS-X will incorporate. Local sources suggest that the aircraft will be an austere version of the FS-X. The trainer is unlikely to require the fighter's Mitsubishi Electric integrated electronic warfare system or its weapon management system.

The TFS-X would fulfil the outstanding requirement of the Japan Air Self-Defence Force (JASDF) for a new advanced trainer (AT-X) to replace the Kawasaki T-2. The JASDF operates about 80 of the supersonic trainers, many of which are old.

By purchasing more aircraft, the JDA hopes to progressively cut the FS-X's fly-away cost, from the initial '10.9 billion ($113 million) per vehicle budgeted for 1996, to '9.9 billion by 2000 and '6.6 billion by the close of production. It has set an average price target of '8 billion across 141 aircraft.

Japan had originally planned to build 130 FS-X fighters, at a cost of '5.4 billion per aircraft. Escalating development costs, exchange rate fluctuations and the downsizing of the JASDF have led to a threat to cut this to as few as 70 fighters, and push up unit costs correspondingly.

As a result, the JDA has been pressing FS-X contractors and suppliers to reduce prices by up to 20% in return for a larger purchase of aircraft. Production of the FS-X is scheduled to begin in 1996, with delivery of the first aircraft in 1999. The JDA is requesting '147.6 billion as part of next year's defence budget to order the first batch of 12 aircraft and initial spares. A further 35 aircraft are planned for procurement by the year 2000.

The JASDF plans to cut between four and five McDonnell Douglas F-15DJs from each squadron by the year 2000. The surplus two-seat F-15s, together with excess F-4Js, will then serve as partial replacements for the Kawasaki T-2 advanced trainer. Additional F-15s will be released with the planned disbandment of 202sqn in 2004, reducing the JASDF's strength to nine fighter and three fighter-support squadrons.

Source: Flight International