TOKYO — Japan announced Friday that it will jointly develop its next-generation fighter jet with the U.K. and Italy as Tokyo looks to expand defense cooperation beyond its traditional ally, the United States.
The Mitsubishi F-X fighter jet will replace the aging fleet of F-2 that Japan previously developed with the United States.
Japan's F-X and Britain's Tempest, a successor to the Eurofighter Typhoon, will be combined into the next-generation combat aircraft for deployment in 2035. The deal will give Japan greater support in countering China's growing assertiveness and allow Britain a bigger presence in the Indo-Pacific region.
Friday's fighter jet announcement came four days after Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced spending targets aimed at building up Japan's military capability, including a huge boost in defense spending over the next five years. To meet the five-year spending total of 43 trillion yen ($316 billion), the government will need an extra 4 trillion yen ($30 billion) in defense spending annually. Of that, a quarter will be funded through tax increases.
The revised national security strategy, whose release is expected later this month, is predicted to allow the country to have a pre-emptive strike capability and to deploy long-range missiles. That's a major and contentious shift away from Japan's self-defense only defense policy adopted after its World War II defeat in 1945.
To counter growing threats from China and North Korea, Japan has been expanding its defense partnerships with countries in the Indo-Pacific, including Australia, with Southeast Asian countries and with Europe.
Later Friday, Japan and Australia held “2+2” security talks of their foreign and defense ministers in Tokyo to discuss further deepening military ties after Kishida and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese signed a new bilateral security agreement in October. It covers military, intelligence and cybersecurity cooperation amid China’s growing assertiveness.
The agreement and a reciprocal access agreement that Japan and Australia signed in January form “an architecture” for their deeper cooperation that would also include the United States, Australian Defense Miniser Richard Marles said in opening remarks to the meeting.
Japan's new security strategy allows it a bigger strike capability and it hopes to expand joint exercises in Australia, including firing drills that are difficult to conduct at home, defense ministry officials said.
The Defense Ministry said the new aircraft will be a multi-role stealth fighter superior to the F-35 and the Eurofighter, with advanced censors and networking. The new warplane is expected to replace 94 F-2s in Japan, 144 Eurofighters in the U.K. and 94 Eurofighters in Italy, Japanese officials said.
Further details, including production targets, development cost and aircraft design, are still being discussed, officials said.
Kishida’s governing Liberal Democratic Party wants to further relax restrictions on Japan’s arms exports and technology transfers so the jointly-developed new fighters can be exported.
Japan eased the arms export ban in 2014 and created its own Acquisition, Technology & Logistics Agency a year later, seeking to beef up the sluggish domestic defense industry and promote joint technology research, development and sales with friendly nations. That strategy has made little headway since the government, instead of promoting sales, increased big-ticket purchases from the United States.
Japan initially considered Lockheed Martin as its partner for developing the next-generation fighter. But it dropped the plan, reportedly due to the U.S. company’s reluctance to share expertise key to stealth technology.
Japan and the United States instead will cooperate in “autonomous systems capabilities, which could complement Japan’s next fighter program,” the two governments announced Friday.
Britain and Italy were chosen as partners after Japan ensured they would share key information allowing each country to make its own decisions on repairs, officials said.
Under the fighter jet agreement, Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries will partner with British defense contractor BAE Systems PLC. Italy’s Leonardo S.p.A will be a key player in the project. Japan’s IHI, Britain’s Rolls Royce and Italy’s Avio Aero will be in charge of its engine, while Mitsubishi Electric Co., Leonardo U.K. and Leonardo S.p.A. will work on avionics, the Japanese side said.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in a statement that the joint fighter development reflects the need to stay at the cutting edge of advancements in defense technologies to outpace “those who seek to do us harm.” The security of the Euro-Atlantic region and the Indo-Pacific are “indivisible,” he said.
His office said the ambition was to make a jet “enhanced by a network of capabilities such as uncrewed airraft, advanced sensors, cutting-edge weapons and innovative data systems.”
In a joint statement, leaders of the three countries said the project, called “the Global Combat Air Program” will deepen defense ties, science and technology collaboration, help integrate supply chains and further strengthen the defense industry.