Article taken from THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
Japan, Britain and Italy are expected to reach a formal agreement in December to develop a next-generation fighter jet that will be used by the Air Self-Defense Force, Japanese government sources said.
Japan plans to deploy the new fighters by around 2035, when the ASDF’s current F-2s will start to retire.
The airframe of the new fighters will be mainly developed by Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. (MHI) and BAE Systems Plc, a major British defense contractor. Italian aviation and defense company Leonardo SpA will join in this part of the project, the sources said.
Japan’s IHI Corp., Britain’s Rolls-Royce Plc and Italy’s Avio SpA will develop the engine.
The Japanese and British governments, at a meeting in May, agreed to come up with a collaboration outline by the end of 2022.
The two countries have planned to develop next-generation fighter jets with “stealth” ability and technology for coordination with drones.
Italy, which had discussed fighter jet development with Britain, later joined the talks with Japan.
Plans were floated to have British Prime Minister Liz Truss visit Japan in early December to sign the collaboration agreement. But her abrupt resignation scrapped that plan.
Japan, Italy and Britain, now under the leadership of Rishi Sunak, are making arrangements to announce the agreement, possibly online, in December, the Japanese sources said.
After the agreement is signed, Japan’s Defense Ministry will include the development costs in the initial budget for fiscal 2023.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Sunak had a chat on Nov. 16 in Bali. They agreed to accelerate discussions on outlining and announcing their cooperation on the next-generation fighter jet.
At the end of 2018, the Japanese government decided on its Mid-Term Defense Program, which said the country will promptly embark on Japan-led development of a next-generation fighter with a view toward global cooperation.
The Defense Ministry in 2020 chose MHI as a core developer of the new jet, as well as Lockheed Martin Corp. of the United States for technical support.
But the talks became tangled after Japan asked for a degree of freedom in terms of renovation and information disclosure because it wants to export the jets in the future.
The United Sates showed reluctance, citing confidentiality in defense and security information.
Ultimately, Japan switched to Britain as a partner to develop fighter jets.
The Japanese government said joint development by the three nations will reduce costs and help to broaden the market for exports.
To expand its scope of acceptable exports to include the aircraft, the Japanese government is expected to revise the guidelines in the “Three Principles of Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology.”
Under current guidelines, finished products that can be exported are limited to “rescue, transport, vigilance, monitoring and minesweeping.”
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party is expected to discuss a widening of the categories with junior coalition partner Komeito, which has maintained a cautious stance on the issue.
The government wants the jet development project to give a boost to the domestic defense industry.
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