By Bijan Razzaghi
Japan has announced its intention to develop a 5th generation fighter aircraft with features similar to the F-35 and F-22. Lockheed has agreed to work with Mitsubishi to produce the aircraft. It is likely that design elements taken from the Mitsubishi X-2 Shinshin will be used for the concept aircraft. The fighter will retain the stealth and maneuverability of the F-22 but add the air to ground payload and capabilities of the F-35. Currently Japan is set to receive 40 F-35As.
The proposal comes as Japan looks for ways to improves its country’s defense force in the wake of threats posed by China and North Korea.
Japan currently uses the F-15DJ for Air Superiority which has been operational since 1984. This was followed by the Mitsubishi F-2 in 2000 that filled in Japans need for a multi role fighter with air to ground and anti ship capabilities. The new proposed fighter will offer both capabilities and also be low observable.
Japan faces potential threats from Chinese expansionism in the Pacific which includes the recent introduction of the J-20 stealth fighter and the introduction of the highly maneuverable Su-35. China has also introduced aircraft carriers that give the PLA the ability to deploy air power beyond China’s borders. Despite China’s aircraft carriers inability to deploy capable strike aircraft, they offer mobile air superiority at sea.
It is unclear when Japans new fighter will be developed or operational but it is likely sometime in the 2020s. With the F-35 and F-22 operational, developing 5th generation aircraft is not nearly as challenging as before. The new aircraft will most likely use existing technology that the F-22 and F-35 use. Japan originally wanted the F-22 but a ban on international exports in 1997 prevented such as purchase from happening.