The United States has proposed disclosing some of the top-secret details of its state-of-the-art F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to Japan to encourage joint development of an aircraft that will succeed the Air Self-Defense Force's F-2 fighter, the Japan News 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 from the F-16 Fighting Falcon. 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 Raptor 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 yen.
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 related 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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