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Japan opens talks with Western defense companies on F-3 fighter jet development

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World Aviation Defense & Security News - Japan
 
 
Japan opens talks with Western defense companies on F-3 fighter jet development
 
According to Reuters, Japan has opened talks with Western defense contractors about building a new generation of fighter jets, sources say, in what would mark an important milestone in Tokyo's strategy to maintain its air superiority over rival China. The discussions with defense companies including Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Ltd come as Japan readies its ATD-X experimental aircraft for its first test flights within days.
     
Japan opened talks with Western defense companies on F 3 fighter jet production 640 001MHI's ATD-X fighter jet demonstator, on which the future F-3 will be based
     
Stealth fighter technologies being tested on the ATD-X, being developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) and the Japanese Ministry of Defence's Technical Research and Development Institute, would also be incorporated into the new fighter, dubbed the F-3, industry and government sources said.

"They have begun exploratory engagement to look at our capabilities," said a source with a Western defense contractor. "There is no policy decision and no program of record for the next fighter. There is only some discussion that, logically, there will be a fighter at some point."

Analysts estimate the cost of such a program at $40 billion or more, a price tag that could yet prove prohibitive.

Japan has already committed to buying 42 Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. But that aircraft's perceived shortcomings in air-to-air combat and the United States' refusal to sell its Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor have encouraged Japan to consider a domestic-led program to replace its fleet of aging Boeing F-15J warplanes.

Plans are likely to be firmed by end-2017 or early 2018, which would enable the F-3 program to secure funding in Japan’s 2018-2022 five-year plan and be in service by around 2030, the sources added.

Upgrades to a large portion of over 150 aging Japan Air Self Defence Force F-15Js, to incorporate new engines and radars among other advanced capabilities, could proceed while research into the F-3 program continues, said the sources.

Japan's Defence Ministry said it was considering various options for future fighter jets "including independent development and international joint development" to replace its F-2 fighter fleet from about 2030.

It declined to comment on whether it had started discussions with western defense contractors.


Japan recently lifted a decades-long ban on arms sales and while the F-3 program is focused on domestic needs, exports of a home-grown fighter may also be considered.

Any joint effort could be similar to Japan’s F-2 program, where Lockheed Martin teamed up with MHI to develop a fighter jet based its F-16.

High development costs meant that the Japanese government paid around $120 million for each F-2, making it the second-most expensive fighter jet ever built after the F-22s at around $150 million each.

Lockheed Martin said it was very interested in working with Tokyo on the proposed F-3 program.

"Lockheed Martin has a very long history of developing new fighter aircraft, both indigenously and as a foreign partnership that incorporates leading edge technology to address emerging threats," a spokesman said in an email.

Boeing's record in developing new fighter jets can help any "ground-up" program, Jim Armington, who heads business development in East Asia for Boeing's defense arm, told Reuters. Basing the F-3 on an existing design would give Japan a head-start, he added.

“Now, I can’t say which direction the Japanese government will go with this fighter, and whether it will be totally indigenous Japanese industry only or whether it will be opened up for foreign role and cooperation," said Armington. "We are betting that there will be some opportunity for us to help."

(Source: Reuters/SIVA GOVINDASAMY)

 

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