Would the deadly combo work?
Key point: Tokyo wants a new, domestically-made stealth fighter. Japan has licensed U.S. weapons technology before and it looks like Washington might be game.
The Japanese government wants to develop a new, radar-evading warplane by combining elements of the U.S. F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters.
And now U.S. authorities are signalling they’ll release to Japan the secret technology that would make the hybrid fighter possible.
Japan has been here before. In the 1980s and ‘90s Japan licensed aspects of Lockheed Martin’s iconic F-16 fighter design and produced the F-2, a Japanese F-16 variant with a bigger wing and better electronics.
But the F-2 proved to be outrageously expensive. A uniquely Japanese stealth fighter, which would replace the small F-2 force, likewise could prove prohibitively pricey.
“The United States has proposed disclosing some of the top-secret details of its state-of-the-art F-35 stealth fighter jet to Japan to encourage joint development of an aircraft that will succeed the Air Self-Defense Force’s F-2 fighter,” The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported.
The ASDF also has some F-35s. The U.S. plan, which was proposed to the defense ministry, would open the door to a jointly developed successor jet based on the F-35 and other fighters, which would be one of the world’s leading fighter aircraft.
According to Japanese government sources, the United States has indicated a willingness to release confidential details about the software installed in the F-35 airframe to control parts including the engine and the missiles. If the F-35 software, currently held exclusively by the U.S. side, is diverted to the F-2 successor aircraft, the United States will disclose the source code to the Japanese side.
The Japanese hybrid plane, which Tokyo likely would designate the “F-3,” could combine the airframe of Lockheed’s F-22 stealth fighter with the F-35’s sensors and electronics, according to one Lockheed proposal.
Japan in the early 2000s inquired about acquiring F-22s as replacements for the ASDF’s F-15s, but U.S. law bars Lockheed from exporting the F-22. Hybridizing the F-22 could allow Lockheed to sidestep the export-ban.