Trying to maintain an air advantage over China, Tokyo has been developing new advanced aircraft. Now, it’s looking for companies to build them. Reuters:
The discussions with defense companies including Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Ltd come as Japan readies its ATD-X experimental aircraft for its first test flights within days.
Stealth fighter technologies being tested on the ATD-X, being developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) and the Japanese Ministry of Defence’s Technical Research and Development Institute, would also be incorporated into the new fighter, dubbed the F-3, industry and government sources said.
“They have begun exploratory engagement to look at our capabilities,” said a source with a Western defense contractor. “There is no policy decision and no program of record for the next fighter. There is only some discussion that, logically, there will be a fighter at some point.”
Analysts estimate the cost of such a program at $40 billion or more, a price tag that could yet prove prohibitive.
Japan’s efforts are a direct response to China’s new aircraft, which experts say can’t yet compete with U.S.-made planes like the F-35 and F-22 but are nonetheless a significant improvement over the old models. These are just the latest developments in a busy Asia arms race which has been escalating over the past decade.
Militarization has other benefits for Japan too: when Tokyo unveiled its X-2 stealth fighter earlier this year, we noted that it was a notable convergence of Prime Minister Abe’s efforts to reinvigorate the economy and his remilitarization priorities. By getting involved in the advanced weapons business, Japan is effectively pumping billions of yen into high-tech R&D. In the United States, that strategy birthed the internet. Japan is wise to copy it.