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|Role||Stealth air superiority fighter|
|Primary user||Japan Air Self-Defense Force|
|Program cost||US$40 billion|
|Developed from||Mitsubishi X-2 Shinshin|
The Mitsubishi F-3 is a fifth/sixth-generation stealth fighter in development for the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF). It is to become Japan's second domestically developed fighter jet since the Mitsubishi F-1 and will replace the Mitsubishi F-2 by the mid–2030s. It is also developed to bolster the nation's defense industry and potentially enter the international arms market amid Japan's change in defense posture.
The program began with Japan's inability to purchase Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor fighters due to U.S. banning the export of the F-22 to safeguard the aircraft's technology (most notably its stealth technology) as part of the 1997 Obey amendment. With the F-22 no longer an option a domestically developed fighter was chosen instead to replace Japan's ageing fleet of fighter jets. Between December 2009 and August 2010, the Ministry of Defense (Japan) conducted the study of developing a future fighter jet to replace the F-2 fighter in the future. The research conducted called for a new fighter jet that would be a generation ahead of contemporary fifth-generation fighter. The concept fighter was named the i3 Fighter (Informed, Intelligent, Instantaneous). Some technology and capabilities concept fighter is to possess include advance radars to counter stealth technology of other fighters, receive targeting information from other platforms (drones, fighters and/or Airborne early warning and control aircraft), use fly-by-optics (much like the Kawasaki P-1) to process information faster, utilize stealth technology, usage of Gallium nitride semiconductors to improve radar performance, and a new powerful engine.
Mitsubishi X-2 demonstrator
Much of the development of the F-3 program correlates with the development of the Mitsubishi X-2 Shinshin. The development of the X-2 demonstrator allows Japan to obtain new information and develop new technology related to their next generation fighter jet. The culmination of the X-2's development lead to its maiden flight on 22 April 2016.
The significance of the X-2's development and maiden flight allowed Japan to become the fourth nation in the world to develop and test-fly their own stealth jet (behind U.S., Russia and China), as well as revitalize and bolster Japan's lackluster defense and aerospace industry. Prior to the X-2 and the 2014 easing of arms export Japan's defense industry lagged behind the U.S., Russia, European countries and is less (arguably) independent comparatively against its neighbors China and South Korea. Primarily because of the self arms export ban Japanese industry could only target a small, niche defense market, in that, the only customer for Japanese weapons and its capabilities is Japan itself. In addition, Japan does not participated in any joint development with another country, with the exception being the United States. The consequences is that it leads to smaller production of Japanese hardware and in turn makes them more expensive (in development and production) compared to similar products produced elsewhere. As such, despite several Japanese companies being ranked in Defense News Top 100 list of defense contractors, these companies generally do not pursue arms development as much as their foreign counterparts. This in turn slows the growth of Japan's defense industry and similarly effects the aerospace industry as the lack of military aircraft development means that procurement of certain aircraft are sought elsewhere from foreign defense contractors. Most of the fighter jets used by the JASDF are licensed produced U.S. designed jets. Their first domestically developed fighter jet, the Mitsubishi F-1, was developed during the 1970s and the F-2 was originally to be domestically developed but was ultimately joint-developed with the U.S. due to political pressure. The latter's development is controversial in Japan due to the joint development with the U.S. (Japanese defense contractors and lawmakers wanted it to be complete indigenous), technology transfer and high per unit cost which led to its reduced production. Because of the reasons above, the X-2 (and F-3) is seen as a sign of hope and pride to reinvigorate Japan's aerospace and defense industry and possibly break through into the fighter market long dominated by the U.S., European and Russian defense industry. According to Hideaki Watanabe, head of the Acquisition Technology and Logistics Agency (ATLA), the X-2 can be used to give Japan more bargaining power in future joint development projects because of its technological advancement.
Following the X-2's maiden flight and further testing the Japanese Ministry of Defense (MOD) began to evaluate the procurement of the F-3 fighter. By March 2018, a Ministry of Defense representative has stated that the Japanese government is deciding whether to develop the F-3 domestically, through joint-development, or develop it based on an existing fighter design. At the time the Japanese government sent out proposals to the U.S. and U.K., seeking out their participation in the project. Boeing, Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman have responded to the proposal. It is reported that Boeing offered an upgraded fighter based on their F-15, while similarly BAE systems offered their Eurofighter Typhoon. Lockheed Martin proposed a F-22/35 hybrid fighter while also offering Japan the majority of the work in developing and producing the fighter. Northrup Grumman has stated its interest in joining the project but has not made any specific proposals. There is speculation that Northrup Grumman might offer a modernized YF-23 for Japan. By October 2018, the Ministry of Defense has ruled out the possibility of developing a fighter based on existing designs. Boeing's F-15 and BAE Systems' Eurofighter Typhoon failed to meet the ministry's requirements while Lockheed Martin's hybridized stealth fighter was deemed to expensive, with one report indicating it could cost as high as $177 million per aircraft. There is also the uncertainty that the U.S. would even allow the sale given the export ban on the F-22 the hybrid fighter will based on. Domestic development is generally favored the most with defense industry groups and lawmakers being staunch supporters but the expected high cost and inexperience developing a domestic fighter are among the biggest challenges faced with domestic development. International collaboration is seen as another option with the benefit of easing the financial burden but can lead to difficulties in coordinating with the partner/s of the project. Furthermore, Japanese lawmakers are adamant that Japanese companies should lead the project to secure profit and preserve the defense industry. On 4 February 2019, it is reported by Jane's 360 that the Ministry of Defense will prioritize Japan's defense industry to lead the project, with collaboration with foreign defense contractors still being an option. It is speculated that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is also expected to lead the project (as they are the primary contributor to the X-2's development).
Although the design has not been finalized, what is known is that the F-3 will be a twin engine stealth fighter that will be designed for achieving air superiority. The F-3 is to also possess advanced technology enough to classify it as a fifth or sixth generation fighter jet.
The fighter is to possess an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. As a stealth fighter, the F-3 is to carry missiles in its internal weapons bay.
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