The Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) has been operating the Mitsubishi F-2 (detailed elsewhere on this site) lightweight multirole fighter since 2000. Local industry produced a total of 98 examples from the period spanning 1995 to 2011 with the design being a modified form of the excellent General Dynamics (now Lockheed) F-16 "Fighting Falcon". Mitsubishi Heavy Industries was tasked with the project and continues support for the product. Twenty-years on, the nation of Japan, and its JASDF service, is seeking an advanced, all-modern replacement to contend with growing threats originating from North Korea, China, and Russia. This has led to the "F-X" next generation fighter initiative.
Initially, the JASDF sought to procure the advanced Lockheed F-22 "Raptor" 5th Generation air superiority fighter until its purchase was banned from export in 1997 by the American government citing sensitive technologies. This led the nation to pursue another foreign solution or settle on a local development - it chose the latter (though perhaps with some international collaboration still to come). The F-X program owes its existence to the "i3 Fighter" project and X-2 "Shinshin" technology demonstrator program, the X-2 becoming a flyable, one-off prototype exhibiting some of the qualities of the soon-to-be F-X - including stealth. It flew from 2016 to 2018 in the data-collecting role.
As it stands (2020), the initial F-X prototype is tentatively scheduled to complete its construction phase in 2024 with a first-flight to follow sometime in 2028. Full-rate serial production will ramp up in 2031 and the JASDF is expected to induct the fighter into service during 2035.
The current F-X form relies on a pair of embedded afterburning turbofan engines for the required performance-over-range as well as general survivability. This will promote a fairly large airframe which is also expected to house the needed fuel stores, for extended over-water operations, and a radar fit alongside internally-held weapons. Electric actuators will succeed the ages-old hydraulic approach and stealth qualities will figure heavily into the design to promote a reduced radar cross section and radar deflection - this accomplished by way of special materials and onboard systems. Composites will make up some of the fighter's construction, reducing weight and enhancing performance / range in the process.
As currently drawn up, the F-X utilizes a conventional design layout with an appearance akin to the American Lockheed F-22 "Raptor" featured by the USAF. The single-seat cockpit is covered by a specially-coated canopy and positioned just aft of the pointed nosecone. The nose will house an advanced Actively, Electronically-Scanned Array (AESA) radar common to in other modern fighters. The mainplane wing members are blended elegantly at the wing roots while each features clipped tips, swept-back leading edges, and tapering trailing edges. The tail unit will not feature horizontal planes as normally seen but instead a pair of outward-canted fins doubling as vertical/horizontal tail surfaces for the required control. The engine pairing within the fuselage is given a slight gap between and exhausts through ports at the tail. A conventional tricycle undercarriage will allow for ground-running.
Beyond a assumed internal automatic cannon, the aircraft is slated to support all current and near-future air-to-air and air-to-surface launched/dropped weapons including missiles, precision-guided ordnance, and special-mission pods. The in-development XASM-3, and anti-ship missile, will be exclusive to the F-X fighter design and figure into maritime patrol sorties. A "microwave" based weapon is also planned, giving the aircraft an instant solution to inbound missile threats. The current design sees the primary weapons load carried in one, or perhaps multiple, internal weapons bay(s) to maintain a low radar cross section. It is more than likely that the fighter will also be given provision for external pylons for additional missiles and bombs (as in the F-22). The F-X is expected to carry a greater missile than the Lockheed F-35 Strike Fighter - which the JASDF currently operates in number.
As with other modern fighter platforms, the F-X pilot will wear a Wide-Field-of-View (WFoV) Helmet-Mounted Display (HMD) offering pertinent mission and systems data regardless of the direction of the aircraft. The headset is forecasted to offer zoom, full-color imagery, and three-dimensional sound.
Should all come to fruition for the proposed F-X, the system will become a solution for the JASDF that will cover the air superiority role for decades to come - most likely operating into the 2050s. Beyond that, the product will reignite a limited aeronautics industry sponsored by the country that may very well expand capabilities to support international customers of the F-X one day. The F-X is certainly an ambitious project with many pitfalls to be had and supporters look to avoid the controversy that centered on the earlier, expensive F-2 and its reliance on American involvement.
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November 2018 - Full-scale development on a future Japanese fighter is currently scheduled for April 2019. Production is tentatively scheduled for 2028 at which time the F-2 series fighters will be reaching the end of their service lives. This would place the service introduction period for a new indigenous fighter sometime during the early-2030s.
September 2019 - The Japanese defense ministry is seeking roughly $190 million USD to support its its Next Generation Fighter initiative.
July 2020 - The current Next Generation Fighter timeline sees full-scale development to begin no later than 2022 with a prototype being ready for 2024 and formal deliveries to begin in 2028.
November 2020 - The Japanese government has contracted Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to begin formal development of the F-X fighter.
November 2020 - Defense powerhouses Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and BAe Systems have all put forth an interest in assisting the Mitsubishi effort to develop the indigenous F-X fighter.
November 2020 - Engine-maker Rolls-Royce has expressed interest in joint development of a turbofan engine to suit Japan's F-X program.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) - Japan Manufacturer(s)
PROPOSED, STANDARD, FIXED:
1 x 20mm internal automatic cannon.
Support for broad range of air-to-air and air-to-surface ordnance options and munitions held in an internal weapons bay arrangement. To include XASM-3/ASM-3 anti-ship missile, Laser-Guided Bombs, and microwave-based weapon for incoming missile disruption.
F-X - Base Project Designation.
F-3 - Assumed in-service designation for JASDF.
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Image from official F-X program press release; artist concept.
Developments of similar form and function or related to the Mitsubishi F-X...
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