Mitsubishi F-3 Stealth Future Fighter
According to the 2010 National Defense Program Guidelines, the Air Self-Defense Force fighter units should consist of 12 fighter squadrons with approximately 260 fighter aircraft. Given that F-4 fighters were already decreasing in number, it was necessary to make a start on acquiring the new fighter aircraft. It was increasingly important to improve the comprehensive air defense capability through introducing new fighter with high performance, in which fighter aircraft and their support functions act in an integrated manner, due to the modernization of military capability in regions surrounding Japan.
The new fighter aircraft needed to be able to effectively deal with high-performance fighters, as well as being equipped with sufficient performance to deal with cruise missiles and the ability to carry out its operations effectively in networkcentric-warfare that has those functions as constituent elements. Moreover, with weapon systems becoming increasingly high-performance and expensive at present, all weapons are becoming increasingly multirole-focused (multifunctional), from the perspective of cost-effectiveness as well, and this trend is particularly pronounced in the field of fighter aircraft. Furthermore, in light of the fact that the security challenges and destabilizing factors surrounding Japan are becoming increasingly diverse, complex and multilayered, the new fighter aircraft are required to be multirole (multifunctional) aircraft equipped not only with air superiority combat ability, but also with the ability to carry out air interdiction (air-to-ground attack capability), at least.
The Ministry of Defense decided in October 2018 to develop a new aircraft to succeed the F-2 fighter, as proposals from three American and British companies for a replacement failed to meet the ministry's costs and capability requirements. In 2019 Japan considered beginning development of next-generation fighter jet in fiscal 2020 — one year earlier than planned — to succeed the Air Self-Defense Force’s F-2s, which are expected to be retired in the 2030s. The Defense Ministry had intended to earmark costs for the development starting with the budget for the year from April 2021. Lawmakers, however, said that might be too late and the ministry is set to move up the schedule by a year.
A change in the program name from Future Fighter to Next Generation Fighter (NGF), mentioned by Defense Minister Kono Taro on 17 December 2019 was confirmed in the defense ministry’s Japanese-language report on its budget for fiscal 2020. The twin-engine type is intended to enter service in the 2030s. Japan is considering proposals for cooperation with British and U.S. partners. An illustration of the design differed in planform from the most recent that has previously been shown, which was called 26DMU and prepared in fiscal 2014. The new Japanese design was reminiscent of concepts for the proposed Future Combat Air System [ by France and Germany] and Tempest [of Britain] fighter programs.
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the country should lead the development of new fighter jets to succeed the F-2s of the Air Self-Defense Force. Abe made the comment on 11 June 2019 in a meeting with lawmakers from the governing Liberal Democratic Party in Tokyo. The F-2 is to be retired starting in the 2030s. Under a midterm program for the coming five years, the Defense Ministry and Self-Defense Forces are to launch at an early date a Japan-led development project for the successor jets, with possible international collaboration.
In a letter to Abe, a former Lower House deputy speaker and other LDP lawmakers asked for the creation of a department in charge of development in the ministry, and securing of a budget next fiscal year. They also requested priority on the use of aircraft development technology of domestic companies. The lawmakers said Abe responded that he will study the recommendations. He said it's important for Japan to lead international development for the new fighters, and that they must be able to work with US fighter aircraft.
The F-3 will be a different plane from ATD-X. By 2011, development of the new F-3 fighter jet was not a definitely settled matter. At that time there were several concepts. One is 23 DMU ( number 23 means it was designed in Heisei 23rd year or 2011. DMU means Digital Mock-Up). Another is 24 DMU. It is known that 25 DMU also exists, though it had not been publicly revealed. When F-3 is produced, it will replace every F-2 and F-15J.
By January 2016 delays on the ATD-X prototype, originally scheduled to be fully developed by 2018 (and to make its maiden flight last year), put into question the F-3 schedule. Japan's indigenously developed and produced fifth-generation air superiority fighter, designated the F-3, was expected to begin serial production in 2027.
With the F-3 program starting up in response to the United States' refusal to sell Japan the Lockheed-Martin F-22 Raptor in 2007, Japanese media reported that Lockheed-Martin attempted to undermine the ATD-X's development. Purchasing 42 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft in 2011, Japan indicated that the American planes were an interim solution until Tokyo can develop and produce its own F-3 5th generation fighter.
TRDI is working on another next-generation fighter project called the "i3 Fighter" (Informed, Intelligent and Instantaneous) which will build on the technologies tested by the ATD-X. The i3 Fighter concept was expected to form the basis of a production fighter should Japan proceed with plans for a domestically built platform after 2018.
In June 2016 Japan’s defense ministry released a Request for Information for its next fighter program, an early step toward the acquisition to shape the country’s air force in the middle of the century. The ministry is sought information on three alternatives: creating a new fighter type, modifying an existing one or importing. In seeking the data, it did not use the conventional term “request for information,” but that was what the exercise amounts to. Responses were due by 05 July 2016.
It seemed the ministry could only be satisfied with a new type, since no fighter now in production came close to concept designs that showed what it really wanted: a large, twin-engine aircraft with long endurance and internal carriage of six big air-to-air missiles. This requirement is interesting, since the American F-22 can carry six A-120 internally, while the adn F-35 has accomodation for four missiles. For new designs, the ministry’s acquisition, technology and logistics agency requested information on respondents’ capabilities and latest technology. For upgrades and straight imports, it wants to know about the current aircraft.
Japan's current fleet of F-15J and F-2 aircraft are based on decades-old designs modeled off Boeing's F-15 and Lockheed's F-16, respectively. The future of Japan's next-generation fighter jet program remains murky. "We are considering domestic development, joint development and the possibility of improving existing aircraft performance," a Japanese Defense Ministry spokesman said, "but we have not come to any decision yet." Lockheed Martin stands ready as always to build more weapons of war. A company spokesman told Reuters 20 April 2018, "we look forward to exploring options for Japan's F-2 replacement fighter in cooperation with both the Japanese and US governments." Contractors from the US and UK have already started working on sales pitches to get in on the project. American firm Lockheed Martin is one, proposing the development of an F-22 and F-35 hybrid.
The Japanese government is seeking to buy a design for an aircraft that melds together the F-22 Raptor, which is prohibited from being exported and no longer in production, and the F-35 Lightning, which Tokyo is already buying from America's largest defense contractor. The design would incorporate "the F-22 and F-35 and could be superior to both of them," a source told Reuters on 20 April 2018. According to the news outlet, Lockheed is awaiting approval from the US government to offer sensitive details about the Pentagon's latest and greatest technology.
The F-22 is known as one of the most advanced fighter jets in the world, boasting cutting-edge stealth capabilities and supersonic cruise speeds. Lockheed Martin plans to combine this with the networking technology of the F-35. But there are concerns the US would not divulge any design information, which would make it difficult for Japan to eventually build the jets on its own. For this reason, some in the government and ruling Liberal Democratic Party are voicing opposition.
Meanwhile, the UK is in the early stages of developing its own next generation fighter, dubbed the Tempest. Some within Tokyo are calling for a partnership based on this model, partly in the belief that the UK would be more accepting of a Japanese-led project. But there are deep reservations, with some saying Japan should prioritize its relationship with its close ally, the US.
"In the year ahead, we need to work out what kind of concept we want," former Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto Morimoto said in January 2020. "The project will require collaboration between Japanese companies, the government and political parties. It's important to draw on the combined wisdom of the Japanese people to build a new state of defense readiness. I believe such efforts will help shape Japan's future."
Developing a fighter jet is an expensive proposition, with most estimates falling in the trillion-yen range. But despite such a big price tag, there is very little transparency into where the money is allocated. The government says this is due to security concerns. But critics say this is not an acceptable response in a purportedly democratic country.
The public clearly needs to be involved in the process. Politicians and defense industry insiders cannot be allowed to have sole authority over decisions that weigh so heavily on the national budget. It is crucial that both the Japanese government and people work together to choose a fighter project that balances cost-effectiveness with the country's commitment to self-defense and the realities of its current security situation.
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