Declining to take up proposals from BAE Systems, Boeing and Lockheed Martin, it seems that Japan has decided to go it alone and develop an indigenous solution for its next-generation combat aircraft, according to sources close to the programme in the last few days.

Known as F-X or F-3, the aircraft is destined to replace the F-2, a variant of the F-16 developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Lockheed Martin. Much remains uncertain, but it seems relatively clear at this point that no firm decision has yet been taken regarding the airframe – except for the strong desire for it to be a Japanese (and therefore likely Mitsubishi) design. Once that is determined, the government will work on selecting the engines, sensors and avionics, many of which will almost certainly be of foreign origin.

A total of 98 F-2s were built, entering service with the JASDF from 2006 onwards. Somewhere more than 60 remain in operation and the service also operates about 150 Boeing F-15 EAGLEs and over 30 F-4 PHANTOMs, the latter of which are being retired as deliveries of the 135 F-35 LIGHTNING IIs currently on order are made.

The programme is estimated to be worth in the region of $40 billion (€35.8 billion), with Mitsubishi thought to be a clear favourite for prime contractor, having been the developer of Japan’s first stealth technology demonstrator, the X-2.

The X-2 technology demonstrator, completed by Mitsubishi in 2016. (Photo via Wikipedia Japan)

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