Asia Defense

Japan to Delay Development of New Stealth Fighter

Recent Features

Asia Defense

Japan to Delay Development of New Stealth Fighter

Japan is likely to postpone the development of the indigenously designed and developed F-3 stealth fighter jet.

Japan to Delay Development of New Stealth Fighter
Credit: Youtube Still Shot

Japan is slated to postpone a decision to develop a new fifth-generation fighter jet, according to media reports.

Japan started its own stealth fighter crash development program in the 2000s after the United States refused to sell Japan the Lockheed-Martin F-22 Raptor stealth air superiority fighter. In April 2016, the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ experimental fifth-generation fighter technology demonstrator X-2 “Shinshin” (formerly the ATD-X) took to the skies for the first time.

The X-2 prototype serves as the basis for the development of Japan’s first indigenously designed stealth fighter, designated the F-3. The aircraft prototype conducted dozens of test flights in 2016 and 2017. It was originally slated for completion by 2018, with the first F-3 to take to the air in 2027.

However, “the direction is for the F-3 decision to be put back,” one source familiar with the program told Reuters.

By starting the F-3 program Japan first and foremost intended to test the capacity of its aircraft industry to domestically develop a stealth fighter including a next-generation jet engine. Japanese officials already indicated in 2016 that a final decision about the future of the F-3 program will likely not be made until sometime in 2018. “Regarding the F-3 decision, including whether we will delay a choice, we have haven’t come to any conclusion,” a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Defense Acquisition Technology & Logistics Agency (ATLA) told Reuters this week.

The Japanese government sees a domestic stealth fighter program as one option of many, I explained previously:

Japan is slated to procure up to 100 new fifth-generation air superiority fighters by the 2030s. An estimated $20 billion contract is expected to be awarded in the summer of 2018 (See: “Japan’s Air Force to Receive 100 New Stealth Fighter Jets”).

As I explained in July 2016, Japan has three options for procuring for the new aircraft: “First, develop an indigenous air superiority fighter. Second, partner with a foreign defense contractor and license-produce a new aircraft. Third, import or upgrade an existing platform.” The U.K.-Japan joint study falls into the second option of partnering with a foreign aircraft maker.

However, U.S. aircraft makers will remain Japan’s top choice for any future fighter jet co-development projects. 

A decision over the future of the F-3 program will have to be made in the first six months of 2018. Otherwise, it will be too late to include the program in the defense ministry’s new five-year defense equipment plan, which will be revealed by the end of next year. Meanwhile, the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) will induct a total of 42 F-35As into its ranks in the years ahead.