AFP reports, Aug. 21, 2014, that a report in the newspaper Nikkei says Japan is considering building its own fighter jets after years of playing second fiddle in a US construction partnership.
There is a growing need for Japan to develop a long-haul, highly stealthy fighter jets in face of China’s increasing assertiveness in the East China Sea, where the two countries are locked in a dispute over a group of Tokyo-controlled islands that Japanese call Senkaku and Chinese call Diao-yu.
Japan’s attempt in the 1980s to build its first purely domestic fighters since World War II faced US resistance and resulted in joint US-Japan development and production of the F-2. But joint F-2 production ended more than two years ago and the last of the fighters are due to be retired from Japan’s air defense force around 2028.
Japan’s defense ministry plans to seek about 40 billion yen ($387 million) in state funding for the next year starting in April 2015 to test experimental engines and radar-dodging stealth airframe designs for a purely Japanese fighter. Developing a purely domestic fighter is estimated to cost a massive 500-800 billion yen ($4.8-7.7 billion).
Four years ago, Japan’s defense ministry began work on the Advanced Technology Demonstrator-X (ATD-X) stealth plane to explore the project’s feasibility by studying lightweight airframe designs and built-in missile-firing mechanisms. The ATD-X was due to start testing experimental engines in January and the stealth airframe designs in April. The ministry hopes to develop the actual engines for the project in cooperation with IHI, Mitsubishi Heavy and other defense contractors in about five years.
Should Japan go forward with producing its own fighter jet, it will likely stoke fears of Japan’s military resurgence among its Asian neighbors.
Beijing regularly warns of what it says is Tokyo’s intent to re-arm on the quiet and that Tokyo’s selective amnesia about its World War II militarism means Japan cannot be trusted to have a fully-fledged military.
Last month the cabinet of conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a highly controversial shift in the nation’s post-war pacifist stance by proclaiming Japan has the right to go into battle in defense of allies. Tokyo denies its intent is anything other than defensive and, reacting to China’s criticisms, points to Beijing’s opaque military spending and its burgeoning ambitions as the real danger in Asia.
Developing its own domestic fighter is estimated to cost a massive 500-800 billion yen ($4.8-7.7 billion), a decision Tokyo will have to make by the 2018 financial year.