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F-2 Support Fighter / FSX

The F-2 is planned as the replacement for Japan's aging, domestically developed F-1 fighter. Initially a total of 130 one- and two-seat versions were planned to be based at JASDF bases in Japan. It replaces JASDF's fleet of aging F-1 and F-4 Phantom fighters. The cooperatively developed and produced Japanese F-2 single-engine fighter (FS-X) has performance capabilities roughly comparable to those of the US F-16 but costs over three times as much, and about the same as the larger two-engine F-15 developed by the United States and produced under license in the same Japanese facility as the F-2 (FS-X).

In October 1985, the Defense Agency began considering three development options for the FSX: domestic development, adoption of an existing domestic model, or adoption of a foreign model. The agency originally favored domestic development. The Japan Defense Agency's research and development arm, the Technical Research and Development Institute, announced that, except for the engine, Japan possessed the domestic capability to develop an advanced fighter for about $1 billion. But by late 1986, after consultation and much pressure from the United States, it decided to consider a coproduction agreement with the United States. And in October 1987, Japanese and United States defense officials meeting in Washington decided on a joint project to remodel either the F-15 or the F-16.

In November 1988, the United States and Japan agreed to cooperatively develop the FS-X fighter aircraft, basing its design on Lockheed's F-16 Block 40 fighter aircraft. Lockheed and Mitsubishi planned to begin the first phase of the program in October 1989. However, contract negotiations deadlocked in August 1989 due to fundamental differences over the transfer, use, and payment for Japanese technology. During that time, the Air Force suspended transfers of F-16 technical data to Japan.

Once the agreement was reached, it came under heavy criticism from members of the United States Congress concerned about loss of key United States technologies and technological leadership, risks of Japanese commercialization of technology at United States expense, and an insufficient share in the project for United States-based firms. As a result of the controversy, in early 1989 the United States requested and obtained a review and revision of the agreement, restricting technology transfer and specifying that United States-based firms would receive 40 percent of the work. These highly complex issues were finally resolved in February 1990 when the two governments signed a clarifying agreement that cleared FS-X technology for transfer to the United States.

The controversy left bitterness on both sides, and Japanese industrialists, convinced that a Japanese-designed and Japanesedeveloped FSX would be superior to a modified F-16 co-developed by Japan and the United States, were irritated at United States pressure to renegotiate. They considered the agreement already favorable to the United States. Japanese industrialists and defense planners seemed to be inclined to be self sufficient with respect to future weapons research.

Contrary to US views in the early years of the program that the FS-X aircraft would be a lightly modified version of the F-16 Block 40 fighter, the FS-X aircraft evolved to be a significantly modified aircraft, with basic changes in the F-16 design leading to many changes in the configuration items. While similar in appearance, the FS-X is larger and heavier than the F-16. The FS-X design called for a 25-percent larger wing, longer fuselage, and longer horizontal and vertical tails. The FS-X has the same F110 engine used in the latest US version of the F-16 aircraft. The FS-X incorporates five technologies defined by FS-X agreements as Japanese (non-derived): active phased array fire control radar, integrated electronic warfare system, inertial reference/navigation system, mission computer hardware, and radar absorbing material. Japan also developed a co-cured composite wing for the FS-X.

Compared with the American machine, composite materials are much more widely used in the design of the Japanese fighter, which ensured a decrease in the relative weight of the airframe. In general, the design of the Japanese aircraft is simpler, lighter and more technological than the F-16. The wing of the Japanese fighter received the designation F-2 completely new. It has a larger area on 25% than the Fighting Falcon wing. The sweep of the “Japanese” wing is somewhat smaller than that of the American one, under each console there are five suspension nodes. As the power plant of the new aircraft chosen advanced turbofan General Electric F-110-GE-129. Avionics for a fighter was almost entirely created in Japan (albeit with a partial use of American technology). "Mitsubishi Electric" was developed radar with active phased antenna array.

The FS-X development program entered the prototype production phase in April 1993. The FS-X program helped strengthen Japan's aerospace industry. Japanese FS-X engineers acquired valuable design and systems integration experience applicable to other military and commercial aircraft projects. By making extensive changes to the F-16 baseline, Japan maximized its use of indigenous design concepts and technologies, and has ensured an important role for Japanese companies. As a result, the FS-X program reduced Japan's dependence on U.S suppliers for future Japanese military, and possibly commercial, aircraft programs. Through technology transfers and visits, the United States learned about certain Japanese FS-X technologies. Under these agreements, the US government and US companies may negotiate purchases of FS-X technologies that are not essentially developed from US technical data (non-derived) at a cost to be determined at the time of transfer. Preliminary analyses of the performance of these systems indicated that Japanese technologies, while strong in some areas, did not match US capabilities.

Lockheed Fort Worth Company (formerly General Dynamics Fort Worth Division), the manufacturer of the F-16, is the principal US subcontractor. The government of Japan has overall FS-X program responsibility. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, a Japanese company, is the prime contractor and is responsible for portions of the airframe, some avionics, digital flight controls, and support equipment. Mitsubishi is also responsible for overall FS-X systems integration. Key Japanese industry subcontractors include Fuji Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries. Fuji is responsible for developing the aircraft nose, composite wing upper skin, and tail assembly; Kawasaki is responsible for the center fuselage. Ishikawajima Harima Industries, another Japanese participant, performed engine testing and maintenance during the development phase and manufactured portions of the US engine under license when the program proceeded into production.

The first phase of modernization of the Mitsubishi F2 began in 2015 with the J/APG/1 radar, which was modernized towards the J/APG-2 version. Although this radar already possessed the AESA technology, it was not the best performing, due to many limited functionalities and the lack of experience of the time. This update improves the power of radiation and signal processing and gives the F-2 a new ability to engage multiple targets.

Japan also equipped its F2 with a new AAM-4B missile equipped with an AESA-controlled radar head to enable active locking after its launch. This ability will allow the F-2 to leave the combat zone, or focus its attention on other targets after firing, instead of focusing on the target up to impact (and remaining vulnerable).

Japan is modernizing its air force in a very tense context with North Korea, but also in preventing China's air and naval movements. This modernization should make it possible to extend the combative capability of the F-2s which are in pairs with the F-15J while awaiting the arrival of the F-35. Designed to be a versatile aircraft, the F-2 carries a 20mm Vulcan gun, Mitsubishi AAM-3 air-to-air missiles and AIM-7F Sparrow.

The last stage allows the integration of the new XASM-3 Supersonic anti-ship missile developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to replace ASM-1 and ASM-2 missiles. In February 2017, an F-2 conducted a missile launch test as a precursor to live fire. Mass production was expected to begin in 2018. The XASM-3 is able to reach Mach 3 speed thanks to its ramjet engine powered by two air intakes (in the same way as the MBDA Meteor air-to-air missile). The XASM-3 flies close to sea level at the final stage of the attack to reduce the probability of detection and interception.

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Page last modified: 06-07-2021 16:52:20 ZULU