The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Defense Ministry views Lockheed Martin Corp. as the leading candidate to develop fighter jets to succeed the F-2 fighters in the Air Self-Defense Force, according to government sources.
Lockheed, fellow major American defense contractor Boeing Co. and Britain’s BAE Systems PLC submitted their proposals on developing a successor to the F-2 to the ministry on Friday.
Though the ministry favors Lockheed’s plan, it is carefully examining the three proposals as the price presented by Lockheed was higher than the initial estimate.
According to the government sources, Lockheed’s plan is to develop the new fighters based on the F-22, which are the U.S. Air Force’s high-performing stealth fighters. The proposal calls for the installment of electronic devices that are used in F-35 fighter jets, which are part of the ASDF fleet, in the new fighters. The plan assumes that Japan and the United States will jointly develop the new aircraft.
Boeing’s plan is to use F-15 fighters, which are the ASDF’s mainstay fighters, as the basis of the new fighters, which will have partial stealth capabilities through joint Japan-U.S. development.
BAE Systems’ plan will have Japan and Britain jointly developing the new fighters by utilizing technologies applied to Typhoon fighters, which are the British Royal Air Force’s mainstay fighter jets.
The ASDF now possesses about 90 F-2 fighters. These will start to be retired from service beginning around 2030.
In February, the ministry notified the three companies of the capability requirements for the successor fighter model. Among the demands was that the new fighters be high-performance stealth jets with a maximum speed above Mach 2. The ministry requested the three companies to provide their proposals by Friday.
According to the government sources, Lockheed’s plan better meets the demands of the ministry, mainly in terms of stealth capabilities compared with the plans of the other two companies, as the proposed development of the new fighters will be based on the F-22. The F-22 has been dubbed the “world’s most powerful” fighter jet, praised for its high-level stealth capabilities that make it extremely hard to detect by radar and its flight performance.
In Lockheed’s plan, however, the proposed price for each new fighters is more than ¥20 billion, which is far higher than the ministry’s initial estimate.
If development and production costs are so high, it is possible that the ministry may reject the company’s plan from the standpoint of cost-effectiveness.
Another focus of attention will be the extent to which Japanese companies will be involved in the development.
In the past, the government tried to import F-22 fighters, but the United States prohibited exports of the F-22 to prevent U.S. military technologies from being stolen. Japan thus decided to introduce F-35 fighters instead.
The current administration of U.S. President Donald Trump is enthusiastic in expanding exports of U.S. weapons. Thus, it is possible that the U.S. administration will allow the plan to develop Japan’s new fighters based on the F-22.
The ministry has also compiled an initiative as part of the design of the new fighters that the successors to the F-2 will carry small, unmanned aircraft for detecting enemies in faraway positions. But the ministry sees this option as a medium- to long-term issue, so it was not included in the demands for the new fighter capabilities.