March 25, 2016

Japan talking to Lockheed and Boeing about next generation air superiority fighter

Japan has opened talks with Western defense contractors—including Lockheed Martin and Boeing—to develop a next-generation air superiority fighter.

The new Japanese aircraft could be based in part on the technologies being matured on Mitsubishi’s X-2 ATD-X stealth fighter concept demonstrator. The X-2 prototype is set to take to the skies for the first time in days.

Japan needs to replace its F-15J Eagle air superiority fighters. In Tokyo’s estimation, the F-35—which was not designed primarily for the air-to-air role—won’t be enough to meet its requirements. While Tokyo is buying forty-two F-35s, those planes will replace Japan’s F-4J Kai Phantom II fleet. The plane Japan wanted as its F-15J replacement was the F-22, but U.S. law prohibited the Raptor’s export. “Japan really wanted the F-22 but it got the F-35,” a Japan-based source told Reuters. “This is a source of concern and frustration in Tokyo.”

That is one reason the Japanese are aiming to develop what is being called the F-3—potentially a operational variant of the X-2—as an air superiority fighter. Japan aims to field a new air superiority fighter in the 2030s—roughly at the same time the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy hope to field the F-X and F/A-XX respectively. That means that Japan might be able to leverage such an effort to join a U.S.-led sixth-generation fighter program. Tokyo probably can’t afford to pay for a $50 billion fighter development program on its own.

Japan's ATD-X protoytype

Boeing 6th generation fighter concept

Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works division has revealed a conceptual next-generation fighter design that offers the first hints of an ambitious, long-term technology strategy for the new class of tactical aircraft that will emerge after 2030. Lockheed Martin has called for greater speed, range, stealth and self-healing structures.

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