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Japan F3 -New program

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Meet the Mitsubishi F-3: Japan's 6th Generation Fighter Jet
Will it be a show stopper?
by Sebastien Roblin
April 13, 2019

Japan’s 2019 Mid-Term Defense review quietly revealed that after years of hesitation, Tokyo has decided to press ahead with development of its own domestically designed sixth-generation Mitsubishi F-3 air-superiority stealth fighter, rather than purchasing an additional foreign stealth design to supplement its growing fleet of F-35s.

In February 2019, the Japanese Ministry of Defense explicitly confirmed these intentions to Jane’s. Reportedly, F-3 performance requirements are set to be released in the 2020 budget, with development officially beginning in 2021 and a first flight targeted for 2030.
The new F-3 jets would then begin replacing Japan’s over one hundred home-built Mitsubishi F-2 single-engine fighters—heavily upgraded (and over-priced) F-16s—starting in the mid to late 2030s.

Later, a Japanese television feature in March 2018 revealed close-up footage of advanced high-thrust XF 9-1 turbofan engines and Active Electronically Scanned Array radars under development for the F-3 program. The special also revealed a projected program development cost of 5 trillion yen—equivalent to nearly $45 billion U.S. dollars. Cost per-plane could easily exceed earlier-cited figures of 20 billion yen ($179 million).

Tokyo’s Stealth-Fighter Odyssey


In 2016, Japan achieved a technological milestone when it flew its Advanced Technology Demonstrator, the X-2 Shinshin. In development since 2007, the ATD cost $350 million and featured innovative composite ceramic/silicon carbide skin and powerful vector-thrust turbofans for extreme maneuverability and super-cruising flight speeds. The Shinshin, described in greater detail in this article, supposedly had a radar cross-section the size of a ‘giant beetle.’

But the ATD was a tech-demonstrator, not a prototype for an actual fully-equipped fighter plane. When Tokyo initially balked at the estimated $40 billion, it froze further development and issued Requests For Information to foreign aviation firms.


The concept of a hybrid of the F-22 airframe with the F-35’s more advanced avionics seemed particularly attractive; but the bill for such a plane remained extremely high at an estimated $215 million per aircraft. Japan also courted Grumman, which decades earlier developed an XF-23 ‘Black Widow’ stealth fighter, and British BAe, which is currently developing the Tempest stealth fighter.

Either option would have meant committing to build more fifth-generation fighters instead of looking ahead to sixth-generation designs such as the Tempest and European FCAS.


Furthermore, advanced military aviation industries are very difficult to start up again after lengthy interruption as experienced engineers retire, factories close and technologies become outdated. If Japan didn’t start developing a stealth fighter now, it might become impossible to do so in the future, sinking Tokyo’s hopes of breaking its long-standing dependence on U.S.-based defense companies.

F-35 versus F-3


Many analysts predicted the F-3’s demise after Tokyo announced its intention to purchase 105 more F-35As and F-35B Lightning stealth jets in addition to the 42 already ordered. Tokyo may even procure some of the F-35s more quickly and cheaply from U.S. factories instead of producing them in Japan.

However, the F-35 is designed foremost as an air-to-air capable strike plane rather than air superiority fighter in the vein of the F-22 Raptor, which is no longer in production.


While the JASDF is building up its surface strike capability, defensive air patrols are by far its primary mission. In 2018, the JASDF dispatched fighters to intercept approaching Russian and Chinese military aircraft on average nearly three times per day. The PLA Air Force outnumbers Japan’s six-to-one, and its latest fighters like the J-11D and J-20 come close to matching Japan’s historical qualitative advantage.

Characteristics desirable in air defense fighter are long range/endurance for lengthy patrols; high speed to swiftly engage incoming aircraft before they release their weapons; and maneuverability to defeat opposing fighters in within-visual-range dogfights. In all of these old-school characteristics, Japan’s forty-year-old F-15J Eagle fighters out-perform the F-35.


Nonetheless, the F-35’s stealthy radar-cross section and powerful networked sensors make it more survivable and dangerous than an F-15 that can be detected from dozens of miles away. But Japan would still prefer a fighter that was both stealthy and a dedicated air-to-air combat machine.

When Jane’s asked a Japanese official what the top five priorities were for the F-3, he listed “capability for future air superiority” first.


The other qualities included capacity for upgrades, domestic technological ownership, and affordability. Japan may hope it could lower costs by exporting abroad, as Japan’s parliament legalized arms sales in 2014. However, Japan’s military hardware tends to be quite pricey and it has yet to have much export success. Stealth fighters, though, remain high in demand and difficult to acquire, with only the F-35 having been exported so far.

What will the F-3 look like?


All that’s certain is that the F-3 will be a twin-engine fighter capable of mounting six internal weapons. Beyond that, highly divergent concept sketches released by Japanese engineers indicate a final design is far from being selected.

However, there is more information available of various technologies Japanese engineers are eager to incorporate in the F-3.


In 2019, Japan began testing XF-9-1 low-bypass turbofans developed by Ishikawa Heavy Industries. These can reportedly generate 11-12 tons dry thrust, or 15-16.5 tons ‘wet’ (dumping fuel into the afterburners) and tolerate 1,800 degrees Celsius of heat. While the F-22’s two F119 turbofans generate 13 tons dry and 17.5 wet thrust, the XF-9 is a half-meter shorter and 30 centimeters slimmer than the F-119, leaving more room for internal weapons.

Separately, Japan’s defense ministry has been researching three-dimensional thrust-vectoring nozzles which redirect the engine’s thrust up to twenty degrees in any direction. If these can be implemented without compromising radar-cross section (difficult), this suggests Japan wants the F-3 to rank amongst the world’s most maneuverable modern jet fighters alongside the F-22 and Su-35, enhancing its ability to evade missiles and out maneuvers adversaries in within-visual range combat.

Each XF-9 can generate an extraordinary 180 kilowatts of electricity, which could be potentially be used to power directed-energy weapons such as lasers or especially radar-based microwave weapons that could fry circuitry in ballistic missiles streaking towards Japanese islands.

Japan has also studied turning the F-3’s airframe skin into a huge ‘conformal’ radar antenna using composite smart-skin sensors, and tested an electromagnetic ESM sensor that not only helps detect adversaries, but which can minimize or distort a stealth fighter’s own radio-frequency emissions for self-defense.

For cockpit instrumentation, Japanese scientists are considering ditching the traditional ‘Head’s Up Display in favor of an F-35 style Helmet Mounted Display system combined with a single large liquid-crystal display. An artificial-intelligence using man-machine interface is also being developed to optimize data flow to the situation and lighten pilot taskloads.

Japan has also been researching high-speed datalinks that could network sensors and exchange targeting data with friendly forces. These are specifically intended to counter numerically superior enemy adversaries as well as stealth aircraft like China’s J-20 stealth fighter or forthcoming H-20 stealth bomber.

Technologies tested in the X-2 that could reappear in the F-3 include EMP-resistant fiber-optic fly-by-wire avionics, and ‘self-repairing’ flight systems that detect and automatically compensate for damage to an aircraft’s control-surfaces.

Japanese defense ministry also clearly is inviting technology transfers and assistance from firms like Lockheed, Boeing or BAe to ease the project’s completion, despite the lead taken by domestic firms.

The above technologies check off many characteristics of conceptual sixth-generation fighter jets—(though optional-manning and drone-control have yet to be mentioned), and are individually pretty impressive. However, integrating them into a capable flying platform poses a much greater challenge, as does mass-producing them in a cost-efficient manner. The U.S. F-35, for example, suffered many delays and cost overruns due to difficulties integrating its many new technologies under concurrent development. Thus Japanese engineers have their work cut out for them as they seek to realize the fifteen-year development goal.


 

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U.S. offers Japan secret info for development of F-2’s successor jet
April 18, 2019

The United States has proposed disclosing some of the top-secret details of its state-of-the-art F-35 stealth fighter jet to Japan to encourage joint development of an aircraft that will succeed the Air Self-Defense Force’s F-2 fighter, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

The ASDF also has some F-35s. The U.S. plan, which was proposed to the Defense Ministry, would open the door to a jointly developed successor jet based on the F-35 and other fighters, which would be one of the world’s leading fighter aircraft.

According to Japanese government sources, the United States has indicated a willingness to release confidential details about the software installed in the F-35 airframe to control parts including the engine and the missiles. If the F-35 software, currently held exclusively by the U.S. side, is diverted to the F-2 successor aircraft, the United States will disclose the source code to the Japanese side.

If the joint development goes ahead, the United States reportedly is prepared to allow components made in Japan to be replaced with U.S.-made parts that are planned to be used in the F-2’s successor. If these proposals materialize, it would widen the scope for Japanese companies to participate in the aircraft’s development.

The Japanese and U.S. governments started seriously discussing the U.S. proposal at the end of March. The Japanese government intends to decide on the course of the aircraft’s development, including whether to accept the U.S. proposal, by the end of this year.

The ASDF has about 90 F-2s, which Japan and the United States jointly developed. The aging F-2s are scheduled to start being retired from about fiscal 2035. In the newest Medium Term Defense Program, the ministry stated it will “launch a Japan-led [fighter] development project at an early time with the possibility of international collaboration in sight.”

In July 2018, major U.S. defense equipment maker Lockheed Martin Corp. proposed to Japan the joint development of a new aircraft featuring the electronic components of the F-35 in the airframe of the U.S. Air Force’s F-22 advanced stealth fighter jet, which is widely considered the world’s best fighter jet.

According to a Japanese government source, some government officials expect that “combining the F-35 and the F-22 could create the highest-grade fighter jet in the world.” However, the U.S. side had not previously disclosed confidential information about these two fighters, generating deep-rooted concerns that any joint project would not help nurture domestic defense industries and that Japan could not easily make any repairs should they be needed.

Nudged by ‘rival’ Britain
The U.S. willingness to disclose confidential details about the F-35 is aimed at spurring the joint Japan-U.S. development of the F-2’s successor.
The United States has taken a strong interest in the development of the F-2’s successor, a project into which Japan reportedly will pour about ¥2 trillion.

The British government has shown its desire to undertake joint development with Japan and proposed supplying high-level confidential information for such a project. The United States apparently became aware of these moves by a “rival” for Japan’s attention.

With regard to the F-35, one of which recently crashed in the sea off Aomori Prefecture, Japan has only two options: accept completed aircraft from the United States or participate in their assembly. If the latest proposal actually comes to fruition, it would avoid a situation in which the United States keeps confidential information relating to aircraft development under wraps and Japanese companies get shut out of development work. It can be said that the possibility of joint Japan-U.S. development has increased.

The crafting of an information management system due to the implementation of the Law on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets also led to greater flexibility in the U.S. attitude on this issue.

 

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US Offers Japan Access to F-35 Code for New Stealth Fighter
Lockheed Martin is reportedly offering Tokyo top secret software as part of its pitch to develop Japan’s next-generation stealth fighter.

By Franz-Stefan Gady
April 25, 2019

The U.S. government is willing to share at least a portion of the computer code used to operate the fifth-generation Lightning II F-35’s avionics and mission systems with Tokyo as part of Lockheed Martin’s pitch to co-develop a new stealth fighter with Tokyo, known as the F-3.

“The United States has proposed disclosing some of the top-secret details of its state-of-the-art F-35 stealth fighter jet to Japan to encourage joint development of an aircraft that will succeed the Air Self-Defense Force’s F-2 fighter,” the Japanese daily Yomiuri Shimbun reported on April 18. In detail, the U.S. has expressed its willingness to release the software installed in the F-35 to control parts including the aircraft’s engine and the missiles.

The F-35’s computer software, which has at least eight million lines of code, is currently exclusively held by the aircraft’s developer, Lockheed Martin, and is a closely guarded secret. The U.S. defense contractor last year submitted to the Japanese government a design proposal for a twin-engined next-generation air superiority fighter jet that combines the F-22’s airframe with the F-35’s electronic suite.

Lockheed Martin is one of five contenders seeking to partner with Japan on its so-called Future Fighter (F-3) Program, which will officially be launched this year in line with the Mid-Term Defense Program (MTDP) and the National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG). Japan has been looking for international partners to collaborate with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), and other Japanese defense firms on the F-3 fighter for the past year.

The Japanese Ministry of Defense (MoD) issued a request for information to international aircraft makers in 2018 for the F-3 program. BAE Systems, EADS, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman reportedly responded to the request.

According to the Yomiuri Shimbun, U.S. and Japanese officials have only seriously begun to discuss the Lockheed Martin proposal last month. Overall, the Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) is seeking to replace its fleet of 90 F-2 multirole fighter aircraft, a Mitsubishi license-produced variant of Lockheed Martin’s F-16, by the 2030s with up to 100 new fifth-generation air superiority fighters.

Should the Japanese government select Lockheed Martin’s design, the United States is reportedly prepared to allow the integration of Japanese-made components into the fighter jet design including a new mission system and engine, which would be a boon to Japan’s military aviation industry. However, according to 2018 media reports, Japan’s Ministry of Finance has rejected the Lockheed Martin proposal as too expensive. The costs of developing and building 100 F-3 stealth fighters are estimated to exceed $ 20 billion.

As I reported last year, Japan may also seek to collaborate with the United Kingdom on the latter’s Tempest Future Fighter Aircraft project, which aims to field a sixth-generation stealth fighter for the Royal Air Force (RAF) by 2035. Japan’s Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Agency (ATLA) and the UK MoD first began exploring options for jointly developing a new stealth fighter jet back in 2017.

 

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Japan, US deepen fighter technology talks
Jon Grevatt, Bangkok
09 May 2019


Japan plans to retire its Mitsubishi F-2 fighters from the early 2030s. The MoD in Tokyo is planning to replace the aircraft through a ‘Japan-led’ fighter development project possibly involving foreign assistance. Source: Japan Air Self-Defense Force

The Japanese Ministry of Defense (MoD) and the US government are deepening discussions in support of Japan’s programme to develop a platform to replace its Mitsubishi F-2 fighter aircraft, Jane’s understands.

Discussions between the two sides are focused on the fighter aircraft technologies that the US would transfer to Japan to support the next-generation fighter programme, which Japan wants to make a decision on in the near future.

A key consideration in the talks is technologies related to the Lockheed Martin F-35, which Japan has recently committed to procuring in large numbers.

A spokesperson for the MoD told Jane’s , “The Japanese MoD and the US government have been making contacts at various levels regarding the development of a future fighter to replace the F-2.”

The MoD said it would not disclose details of the bilateral talks but stressed that there has been no proposal from the US to disclose secret source code information about the F-35 in a bid to secure partnership status on the programme.

Japan is considering several F-2 replacement options. These include the joint development of a new aircraft with an international contractor; licensed production of an existing foreign design through government-to-government channels; the development of an indigenous platform; or a programme to upgrade and refurbish the F-2, which Mitsubishi stopped producing in 2011.

The MoD spokesperson told Jane’s that a schedule for a decision on these options has not yet been decided. However, she also said that the MoD is committed to making a decision soon so that the fighter development programme can commence “in the near future”.

The spokesperson said that the MoD expects the F-2 to remain in service for at least 15 years and that it is required by Japan’s defence policy – the 2019-2023 Mid-Term Defense Program – to undertake research in future fighter aircraft and “launch a Japan-led development project at an early timing, with the possibility of international collaboration”.

 

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Shinzo Abe: Japan should develop next generation of fighter jets
June 11, 2019
By Elizabeth Shim

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Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday Japan should develop military planes domestically. File Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI | License Photo

June 11 (UPI) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday Japan should develop fighter jets domestically, following an agreement with the United States to purchase more than 100 F-35s.

The fighter jet would be the next generation aircraft modeled after the F-2, which is to be retired starting in the 2030s, NHK reported.

Abe made the remarks while meeting with lawmakers of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

"It is important Japan leads the development of the next generation of fighters," Abe reportedly told politicians in Tokyo. "It is also important the planes have the ability to cooperate with U.S. aircraft."

Japan agreed to the F-35 purchase as it seeks to defend itself from countries like North Korea and China.

Abe has previously told U.S. President Donald Trump acquiring high-performance weapons is important for Japan's defense capabilities.

Japan has also purchased missile interceptor Aegis Ashore from the United States. The central government seeks to deploy the missile defense in Akita Prefecture, despite opposition from Akita Gov. Norihisa Satake.

Satake and local residents in Akita are opposing Aegis Ashore deployment after geographical data in survey documents was found to contain flaws. Asahi Shimbun reported earlier in the week government workers used free software Google Earth to make measurements of candidate sites, before selecting a military base near Akita city for $2 billion worth of military equipment.

Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya has apologized for the incident, Kyodo News reported Tuesday.

"We're very sorry. It was inappropriate as the behavior lacked a sense of alertness in such an extremely important situation," Iwaya said.

Satake has also complained about a defense ministry official who was napping during a briefing for Akita residents.

"It's truly regrettable," Satake said.

 

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