Tokyo — Japan is seeking proposals for a new advanced jet fighter based on an existing Western aircraft and wants American and British cooperation to help kick-start development of the project, which is estimated to cost around $40 billion, three sources said.
Japan this month issued a third request for information (RFI) to defense companies, seeking proposals for the new aircraft, dubbed the F-3. Unlike the first two requests, this one went only to foreign companies in the United States and Europe, with a separate, more detailed document delivered to London and Washington, according to the sources, who have direct knowledge of the requests.
“Japan expects specific proposals for designs based on existing aircraft,” said one of the sources. The two previous RFIs did not attract any detailed proposals, he added.
The requests for a design based on existing aircraft and the separate documents sent to the British and U.S. governments have not been previously reported.
The sources declined to be identified because they are not authorized to speak to the media.
Existing airframes Japan could use include the F-35 Lightning II stealth jet built by Lockheed Martin Corp or Boeing Co’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet; and the Eurofighter Typhoon, manufactured by a European consortium including BAE Systems Plc.
Japan’s last domestically produced jet fighter, the F-2, which entered service in 2000, was built jointly by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) and Lockheed Martin based on the U.S. F-16 multi-role fighter. As Japan’s leading fighter maker, MHI, which built the World War Two-era A6M Zero, would anchor the Japanese share of the F-3 project.
“We are considering domestic development, joint development and the possibility of improving existing aircraft performance, but we have not yet come to any decision,” a Ministry of Defense representative said.
Building Japan’s next-generation fighter based on a foreign aircraft already in service could save money, but come at the expense of advanced features like stealthy shaping. Neither the Typhoon nor Super Hornet are designed to be near-invisible to radar.
Lockheed Martin, Boeing and BAE Systems, Britain’s largest defense company, were not immediately available for comment.