According to the Japan Times, the defense ministry said on Tuesday it would begin building a prototype for its next-generation fighter in 2024, with the goal of having the plane in the air for the first time by 2028.
If all goes well, mass production of the jet should begin by 2031, according to the ministry’s timeline, and the aircraft will begin replacing the Mitsubishi F-2 fighter in 2035.
Defense News further noted the defense ministry hoped to select the program’s primary contractor as early as October of this year, which would produce a basic design for the aircraft by April 2021.
Bradley Perrett at Aviation Week nicknamed the nex-gen fighter “Godzilla” when its concept art was released in February, thanks to the aircraft’s huge size exceeding that of the already-large F-22, which is 62 feet long.
Sputnik previously reported on the unveiling of the concept drawing for the aircraft, noting its similarity to Northrop’s YF-23 Black Widow test aircraft. The Pentagon eventually selected the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor instead, and later declined to sell Tokyo - or any foreign power - the stealthy fighter aircraft.
As a consequence, Tokyo undertook its own stealth aircraft research, building the X-2 Shinshin tester, which flew for the first time in 2016. The aircraft reportedly has the radar cross-section of “a giant beetle.”
However, the upcoming fighter won’t dent Tokyo’s commitment to the F-35 program. The island nation is still expected to be Lockheed Martin’s largest customer, buying some 157 of the expensive stealth aircraft.