Japan to launch sixth generation fighter F-3 in 2031

TOKYO (GDC) — Japan plans to begin mass production of a cutting-edge, domestically developed sixth generation fighter jet in fiscal 2031, aiming to start deployment in 2035 when its fleet of aging F-2 planes is scheduled to be retired, according to plan presented Tuesday by the Defense Ministry.

Tokyo pledged a prompt start on development of the new stealth fighter in its defense buildup plan hammered out in 2018, envisioning Japan supplying key components such as the engine while working with the U.S. on technology.

Japan will be the second country to build a stealth fighters and first country to build sixth generation warplane.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is the main contractor building an experimental aircraft, the X-2, on which the fighter will be based. That plane began flying in 2016, making Japan the second country after the U.S. to have developed a stealth aircraft.

Japan has received proposals from three U.S. aerospace companies on its program for a next-generation fighter jet, as Tokyo looks to forge a framework including cost and time estimates by the end of 2020. Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin to provide stealth and radar technologies to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to produce F-3 fighter aircraft.

Prototype production is slated to start in fiscal 2024. Basic designs for key parts and more detailed blueprints are to be finalized by fiscal 2027, with test flights commencing the following year.

The ministry earmarked about 11 billion yen ($102 million) in the fiscal 2020 budget for basic design and other costs. Japan intends to select one or more defense contractors as partners and sign deals this year, forging a framework for developing the fighter in preparation for the fiscal 2021 budget proposal.

Japan will hold talks with the U.S. on ways to ensure interoperability between their defense systems and on the introduction of American technology. Tokyo also will discuss potential cooperation, including sharing development costs, with the U.K. — which is developing its own next-generation fighter under a similar time frame.

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