Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has been picked as the lead developer for Japan's next-generation F-X stealth fighter that will enter service in the 2030s. The company will also consider the opportunity to attract foreign subcontractors to participate in some parts of the project, but the construction of key elements, such as the engine and combat systems, will be entrusted to Japanese companies.
The cost of the entire project could exceed $40 billion, with the Defense Ministry planning to allocate more than half a billion dollars just for the preliminary research.
Currently, Japan is planning to renew its fighter aircraft fleet, which includes 290 vehicles. The new aircraft is supposed to replace the multirole F-2 fighter, manufactured by Mitsubishi in conjunction with Lockheed Martin. Obsolete F-4 fighters are also going to be replaced, partly by purchasing F-35 American aircraft.
As sources from the Japanese Defense Ministry told Reuters in March, Lockheed Martin Corp, Boeing Co and other industrial giants offered Japan their designs for the F-X, but all the proposals were rejected, as Japanese officials “hadn’t met their needs”. It is believed that one of the main reasons for the refusal was the technology demonstrator X-2, constructed in 2016 by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. It showed encouraging results and made Japan the fourth nation with its own stealth jet (after the US, Russia and China). X-2’s achievements could be applied to the next-generation stealth fighter.
Japan is actively increasing its defense capacity amid the growing threats from China and North Korea. For now, the JSDF is the fifth-most powerful military and has the world's fifth-largest military budget.
In 2012, the government approved a large-scale reform project in order to turn the Japan Self-Defense Forces into an actual army. In 2017, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe set a 2020 deadline for revising Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution that excludes war as a means of achieving national interests.