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The plan, according to Defense News, was laid out by Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party. It envisions selecting a prime contractor as soon as October 2020, followed by construction of the first aircraft by 2024. First flight would follow in 2028, followed by production in 2031. The new jet will officially join the Japan Air Self Defense Force, Japan’s air force, in 2035.
Japan had originally planned to replace its fleet of 200 plus F-15J Eagle fighters with the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor but the U.S. Congress, fearing a leak of F-22 technology if the plane were sold abroad, passed a law to prohibit the jet’s export.
Instead, Japan is purchasing 157 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and will continue to fly approximately 90 Mitsubishi F-2s. A larger, more robust version of the F-16 first developed in the 1990s, the F-2 will age out in the 2030s when the new jet will take its place. It is unclear how many planes Japan would ultimately build, or whether or not it would be offered on the international fighter market. Given the extreme cost of developing a fighter, Tokyo will probably try to sell as many of the jets overseas as possible.
Japan faces armed pressure from its neighbors, among them China, Russia, and North Korea. Japan has territorial disputes with both China and Russia, and Beijing and Moscow regularly fly warplanes near Japanese airspace as a show of force. North Korea, although equipped with an aging and largely obsolete air force, is armed with nuclear weapons and considers Japan an enemy state.
Japan’s timetable to build the new fighter is ambitious, but it flew a fighter-like technology demonstrator, ATD-X, between 2016 and 2018. According to the Alert 5 blog, it will also receive assistance developing the jet’s turbine engines from the U.K. The early work and foreign assistance should provide a much-needed developmental boost.
Read more at Defense News.
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