Washington and Tokyo appear to be holding deeper talks related to Japan’s development of a new fighter to replace the Mitsubishi F-2.
A report in Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun, citing unnamed government sources, says that the United States is willing to offer a notable degree of intellectual content related to stealth aircraft design.
The report adds that a proposal from the US side is on the table, and that Tokyo will decide by the end of 2019.
The story adds to widespread media reports that in 2018 Lockheed Martin had proposed a hybrid of the F-22 and F-35A for the F-2 replacement.
Last year saw Tokyo’s Acquisition, Technology & Logistics Agency (ATLA) gathering information from several international parties for the conceptual fighter, tentatively to be designed the F-3. Boeing apparently proposed an aircraft based on the F-15, while BAE systems proposal was based on the Eurofighter Typhoon.
Japanese officials were also present at the Farnborough air show in July 2018, where the UK unveiled the sixth-generation Tempest concept – and its willingness to work with international partners. The Tempest, with its twin canted tails, two engines, and low-observable profile resembles conceptual drawings of the F-3.
The report suggests that Tokyo’s possible option of working with a European partner pushed Washington to be more generous in areas such as source of the code.
Tokyo has done a considerable amount of work related to the F-3 programme, which should be of value in a purely indigenous development, or should it end up working with partners.
The most visible product of this has been the experimental Mitsubishi X-2, which conducted 34 flights from late 2017 to early 2018 to explore areas such as stealth and thrust vectoring.
Other efforts relate to advanced sensors, data links, weapons bays, and engines. In June 2018, IHI delivered the XF9-1 engine, which can produce 33,000lb-thrust (147kN) with afterburner. Lab tests were conducted with this engine, which could be the forerunner to the F-3 powerplant.
Based on the F-16, the F-2 has a 25% larger wing area, which increases payload, and uses more composites in its airframe. Its maximum take-off weight is 22,100kg, greater than the F-16’s baseline MTOW of 19,200kg.
The Japan Air Self-Defense Force has 96 F-2s, comprising 64 single-seat F-2As and 32 two-seat F-2Bs. Of these, one F-2A and four F-2Bs are listed as in storage. The average age of the fleet is 14.6 years.
Tokyo also plans to buy a total of 147 F-35s, a mix of 105 F-35As conventional take-off and landing variants and 42 F-35B short take-off and vertical landing variants.