Japan has both money and industry, why it’s struggling to build a fifth-generation fighter?

Japan is a potential aviation power, and military aircraft manufacturing technology used to be far ahead of any Asian countries.

Although the reputation of Japan Airlines is not obvious today, if you pull the lens of the era to 20 years ago and look at the military aircraft produced in Japan, you will have an impression of the strength of Japanese Aviation.

At that time, the United States provided Japan with a lot of military assistance in order to support Japan against the Soviet Union. At that time, Japan introduced the F15 production line from the United States in 1983, which was assembled by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and about 200 F15s were produced before and after. The single-seat model is F15J, and the two-seat model is F15DJ.

The Mitsubishi F-15J fighter jet introduced in 1981 alone was ahead of any Asian active fighter aircraft at that time. China introduced the Su-27 in the 1990s and then started to assemble the J-11 by itself. It can be said that Japan’s main fighter aircraft at that time was better than the Chinese latest Su-27 not only in quantity but also in quality which was acquired in 1990 from USSR.

In addition to this, Japan has also introduced a batch of F-16s. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries also came up with its own version of the F-16, F2 fighter.  Mitsubishi F-2 was the forst fighter in the world to be equipped with AESA radar, F-2 has a 25% larger wing area than US F-16, Equipments and OFP related to the avionics system differ from the F-16 in many aspects, F-2 used composite materials to reduce overall weight and radar signature. However this massive upgradation affect the price of the F-2  the price is much more expensive than the regular F-16, with an estimated cost of over $120 million each but Japan achieved localization.

Japanese F-2 and F-15J fighter aircraft
Japanese F-2 and F-15J fighter aircraft

In the 1970s, Japan assembled F-4 fighter jets. These F-4s assembled in Japan are equipped with APG66 radar and sparrow air-to-air missiles.

South Korea, one of the most powerful countries in Asia, has only developed the T-50 trainer in recent years same goes for India which takes more than 30 years to introduce home made fighter jet. But look at the production of trainer aircraft in Japan. In the 1970s, the T2 advanced trainer aircraft was developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Later, on the basis of this aircraft, the Japanese F1 fighter was developed. Well, the later Japanese version of the F-16 was called the F-2.

Basically in the same period, Kawasaki Heavy Industries came up with the Japanese intermediate trainer T-4. It is worth mentioning that the engine installed in this aircraft is the F3-INI-30 turbofan engine developed by Japan’s Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries.

In terms of transport aircraft, Japan built its own C-1 transport aircraft and C-2 transport aircraft developed and manufactured by again Kawasaki Heavy Industries. The maximum load of the C-1 transport aircraft is about 12 tons, while the C-2 transport aircraft has developed recently, and the load capacity is 37.6 t better than Chinese four engine Y-20 transport aircraft.

In terms of helicopters, Japan began to manufacture rotorcraft and helicopters during World War II! After the war, it was vigorously supported, and the number of helicopters produced was in double digits!

I won’t talk about other models, I’m just talking about two models. The first one, Japan’s H-60J, is the Black Hawk, Japan made this in the 90s! SH-60L is the latest Improved version of SH-60K. Development began in 2015, delivery will begin in 2022.

The second one, KV107, has tandem dual rotors, similar to the American Chinook, and it is also manufactured by Kawasaki Heavy Industries, and there are 30 units in one build! The Kawasaki KV-107 was a licence-built version of the Boeing Vertol Model 107 which had been supplied to the United States and other military forces as the H-46 Sea Knight. It was produced in a variety of models to meet a number of operational needs. In 1965 Kawasaki acquired from Boeing Vertol the worldwide sales right for the Model 107-II and in 1981 continued to produce the type under the designation KV-107-IIA. Production of the series in Japan concluded in 1990.

Through the above introduction, you should have a spectrum of the capabilities of Japanese aviation manufacturing, right? Fighter aircraft, Japan can build; transport aircraft, Japan can build; helicopters, Japan can build trainer aircraft.

However, Japan’s fighter jets, up to the F-15J and F-2 of the fourth-generation level, have encountered big troubles in their own manufacture of the fifth-generation aircraft. Japan’s own fifth-generation aircraft model, the Mitsubishi X-2, has not been finalized for a long time. Let’s take a look at the plane first.

Mitsubishi X-2
Mitsubishi X-2

This shape is obviously copied from F-22. So, why did the Japanese aerospace manufacturing giants, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, and Fuji Heavy Industries, who were once capable of developing and manufacturing excellent aircraft, fail to make a fifth-generation aircraft?

The reason is that, in the decades after the war, models manufactured by Japan’s aviation industry have long relied on the export of aviation technology from the United States. During the Cold War, the United States had the intention to win over Japan to support Japan in to fight against the Soviet Union, so the -requirements for Japan were basically met. For example, the most advanced F-15 was directly given to only a few countries. In the early days it F-15 was export to only five countries the five countries that Israel, Saudi Arabia, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore. America’s European allies, including close ally Britain, have not received F15s.

Therefore, the Japanese aviation industry, for decades, has been accustomed to the doctrine of importation and introduction, and the ability to develop a new aircraft by relying on its own technology is actually lacking. This is evident from the process of Japan’s own F2 fighter jets. There are many technologies in Japan that can’t be solved, and they go to American companies for help.

Japan’s national power and abilities were no longer sufficient to sustain the development of the fifth-generation fighter since it needed a lot of new technology, new materials, new processes, and new ideas. And after the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States’ military assist toward Japan gradually reduced.

On the contrary, the United States built the international fighter F-35 and persuaded allies around the world to buy it together. It was not hard for Jpan to abandon their own project and decide to spend the money to get the 5th generation F35 directly from USA.

Therefore, I don’t think we can see Japanese-made 5th-generation machines near future. As a Foreign Military Sales (FMS) participant, the JASDF has an established program of record of 147 F-35 Aircraft, consisting of 105 F-35 A models and up to 42 F-35 B models. Japan is acquiring the most F-35s of any international customer.

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