F/X: Japan’s Next Generation Stealth Fighter Will Have F-35 ‘DNA’
According to a widely-reported Japanese Ministry of Defense publication, Tokyo would like to partner up their own Mitsubishi Heavy Industries with the American Lockheed Martin in building their new, next generation stealth fighter. The deal would allow Japan to piggyback off, and draw from, Lockheed Martin’s considerable experience in designing and manufacturing stealth fighters, though MHI would remain the lead contractor.
Previously, the Japanese Ministry of Defense decided that expertise from abroad would be necessary to advance their indigenous stealth fighter program and had considered bids by both Boeing (which was also involved in manufacturing parts of the F-22, including some airframe components) and the British BAE Systems.
Still, the door to program participation is not yet closed to either of those companies, as Japan will also seek additional expertise for F/X components, including avionics and engine parts according to Jane’s. There’s plenty of money to shell out too: the F/X program has been allotted $556.8 million for 2021, a massive increase over the previous year’s budget allotment—nearly 520% more.
Lockheed Martin’s stealth fighter expertise is difficult to overstate—in addition to the F-22 Raptor, which possesses unprecedented stealth and flight capabilities and is arguably the world’s most effective fighter, the firm also manufactures the F-35, by far the most produced and widely-distributed stealth fighter in existence today.
Previously, Lockheed Martin had pitched a unique stealth fighter design to Japan that blended features of both the F-35 and the F-22 fighters, though Tokyo rejected the bid in favor of a home-grown stealth fighter design.
The Japan Self Defense Forces and the United States have a history of partnering on airplane designs: Once the F/X fighter enters serial production, it will replace Japan’s older F-2 fighter, a F-16 Fighting Falcon derivative.
Next Generation Fighter
Though Japan’s stealth fighter has yet to be produced, computer generated modeling images give hints as to what the fight will look like. In addition to a twin-engine design that seems to feature thrust-vectoring nozzles, the design also sports a modified delta wing-type design. It also appears to have a canopy and nose section similar to the F-22.
Prompted by an increasingly-assertive China, Tokyo is taking real steps toward hedging their bets when it comes to their neighbors in Asia. In addition to recently taking on more F-35 stealth fighters and outfitting them with cutting-edge weapons, their F-X stealth fighter will help Japan ensure their autonomy.
Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer with The National Interest. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.