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Japan faces challenges in next-generation fighter development

  • May 8, 2020
  • , Jiji Press , 3:55 p.m.
  • English Press

Tokyo, May 8 (Jiji Press)–Japan’s Defense Ministry aims to seize the initiative on the development of a next-generation fighter jet, but it faces a host of technological and cost challenges.

 

The Air Self-Defense Force’s next-generation fighter, which will replace the F-2, will feature new technologies such as stealth capacity for evading enemy radar and electronic warfare capability.

 

 With the ministry giving first priority to joint development with the United States, it is uncertain whether Japan can take control of the development.

 

If Japan is in control, it will be able to conduct upgrades and maintenance at times of its own convenience.

 

In F-2 development, Japan did not have technologies for the engine and other key components and had to allow the United States to take the development initiative. Bilateral trade friction also helped give the United States control of the development.

 

Japan had difficulties in fighter upgrades and maintenance because it was unable to obtain confidential design information from the United States.

 

In light of this experience, the ministry aims for domestic production of core components, including mission-critical systems, engine and radar, for the next-generation fighter.

 

The United States proposed a hybrid version of the state-of-the art F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters. Japan rejected it, however, with one senior ministry official saying, “We won’t be a subcontractor of the United States.”

 

Japan and the United States will set up a joint public-private committee to flesh out development plans.

 

For Japan, however, optimism is not warranted for the course of discussions at the committee.

 

U.S. technology is the sole available option for some items to be developed, including Tactical Digital Information Link, which is used to share information such as on enemy aircraft caught on radar.

 

Other concerns include U.S. President Donald Trump’s hard sales pitch for American weapons and bilateral negotiations on Japan’s host-nation financial support for the upkeep of U.S. forces in Japan.

 

The design of the next-generation fighter cannot be decided before the selection of the technologies for the jet is clear.

 

An ASDF source said attention will be focused on how much information on core technologies owned by U.S. companies will be disclosed and whether the timely supply of U.S.-made parts will be secured

 

The development cost, said to exceed 20 billion yen per jet, will be another big challenge.

Domestic production would help Japan to sustain a technological base for the domestic industry, but the costs will inevitably increase.

 

In an attempt to reduce costs, the Japanese government is holding talks on technological cooperation with Britain, which is developing a new fighter jet.

 

The Defense Ministry plans to reach a decision on how to promote cooperation with the United States and Britain by the end of the year in line with the government’s compilation of the budget for fiscal 2021, which starts in April next year

 

Hoping to start deployment of the next-generation fighter in 2035, the ministry set aside development costs for the first time in the fiscal 2020 budget.

 

As talks with development companies have stalled due to the new coronavirus pandemic, the ministry is expected to stop short of proposing a specific amount of money in its fiscal 2021 budget request in the summer.

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