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​Tokyo speaking with industry about futuristic F-3 fighter

Japan’s Ministry of Defence has requested information from international aerospace firms to explore options for its planned F-3 fighter programme, which could see a new type deployed in the 2030s.

Three options are on the table, according to an official familiar with the matter. The first is to develop an all-new fighter indigenously, the second is to collaborate with a foreign partner for a new aircraft, and the third is to buy or upgrade an existing type.

“General discussions” are underway with companies including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Eurofighter.

Should the programme advance, the F-3 would be produced by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), possibly in conjunction with overseas suppliers.

“Japan is seeking information from a variety of potential industry partners and we are certainly interested in another potential opportunity to bolster our longstanding partnership with Japan,” says Lockheed in an email to Flightglobal.

“We are proud of our successful partnerships with Japan on the F-35 program and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries on the F-2 program. We look forward to learning more about Japan’s F-3 plans as discussions progress.”

Boeing is also interested in the potential programme.

“We are aware of the request for information the Japan Ministry of Defense has posted, and are in the process of reviewing the requirements,” says the US airframer.

“Boeing has a history spanning more than 60 years of partnerships with industry in Japan which sets us apart from our competitors. We are constantly looking for ways to grow those relationships and increase our presence in Japan, and are open to discussions with the customer to see how we can help meet their security needs.”

The F-3 programme could eventually see up to 100 aircraft produced. It would replace Japan’s locally-built fleet of F-2s.

Mitsubishi is now gearing up for local production of 42 F-35As, following the type’s 2011 selection in a competition for new fighters. MHI also produced Tokyo’s fleet of F-15Js under licence.

Tokyo has demonstrated a keen interest to provide a meaningful contribution to the F-3 programme through the development of the X-2 fighter technology demonstrator.

Built by Mitsubishi, the X-2 conducted its first flight in April. It has been handed over to Japan’s Acquisition, Technology, & Logistics Agency (ATLA), which plans 50 or more flights to explore technologies related to advanced fighters, such as thrust vectoring and stealth.

The X-2 is a key component of a larger effort Japan has made since the 1990s to explore technologies necessary for stealthy fifth- or sixth-generation aircraft. The effort comprises 15 separate programmes, of which the X-2 itself is the most significant. These are investigating specific technologies such as weapons bays, sensors, data links, and other areas deemed necessary for advanced fighter aircraft.

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