Japan and the United Kingdom are pushing ahead with the co-development of a Joint New Air-to-Air Missile (JNAAM) with a prototype expected to be built next year, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera confirmed on November 24.
“We will manufacture the prototype and evaluate its performance,” the minister said during a November 24 press briefing. The new missile will reportedly incorporate advanced Japanese radar technology into the ramjet-powered, beyond-visual-range Meteor missile currently under development by European defense contractor MBDA.
What makes the Meteor missile attractive to Japan’s Ministry of Defense is that it can be fitted into the F-35’s internal weapons bay. (Japan is currently in the process of inducting 42 F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters into service.) It is the first time that Japan is partnering with a country other than the U.S. on a joint defense technology project.
“At the moment, Japan and the United Kingdom are conducting joint research on the feasibility of a new air-to-air missile before starting research on a future middle-range air to air missile,” Onodera said. “The research planned for fiscal 2018 is (…) intended to (…) realize a middle-range air to air missile with (..) increased speed and (…) extended range (…) [small enough] to be integrated into fighter aircraft,” the minister said.
The intention is to combine the active electronically scanned array seeker of the Mitsubishi Electric AAM-4B medium-range air-to-air missile with the Meteor as the AAM-4B is too bulky to fit into the F-35 A’s internal weapons bay.
“Specifically, Japan aims to establish a small, high-performance seeker technology adapted to future threats, and to that end, we will examine the performance of an actual model based on the combination of Japanese technology and the United Kingdom’s long-range propulsion technology,” Onodera added.
Live fire testing of the new missile is expected to begin in 2018 with a possible deployment date set for the late 2020s.
In March of this year, Japan and the UK also agreed to explore options for co-developing an advanced fighter jet. “The agreement stipulates that both countries will exchange information about advanced aviation technology and also conduct a joint study on the feasibility of co-developing a new fighter aircraft in the coming years,” I explained.
Furthermore in 2016, the UK Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) conducted their first-ever joint aerial combat drill, dubbed Guardian North 16, in Japan. The exercise involved four RAF Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets, as well as a number of JASDF Boeing F-15J all-weather air superiority fighters and Mitsubishi F-2s.