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Aerospace & Defense

Japan moves to allay US concerns on fighter jet interoperability

Proposal for F-2 successor comes as Tokyo weighs Lockheed against UK's BAE

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries' X-2, a demonstrator for a proposed new Japanese fighter jet, takes a test flight in 2016. (Phoyo by Takuya Imai)

TOKYO -- Japan's next-generation fighter plane will be compatible with U.S. weapons systems, according to a Defense Ministry proposal presented Wednesday to ruling party lawmakers amid questions over which country Tokyo will pick as a partner to build the jet, Nikkei has learned.

The stealth fighter, scheduled to replace the current F-2 in the mid-2030s, will be designed to accommodate network-centric warfare, ministry officials said at a meeting of the Liberal Democratic Party's defense committee. This concept has guided American military planning for two decades.

Interoperability with American forces has emerged as an issue as the ministry considers Britain's BAE Systems alongside U.S.-based Lockheed Martin as a partner contractor for the fighter jet program, which Tokyo wants Japanese industry to lead.

The Financial Times reported this week that Washington has pressured Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government to choose an American partner. Tokyo buys the Lockheed-developed F-35 from the U.S. but plans to continue assembly of the plane in Japan.

A partner nation for the F-2 successor program will be chosen next year, ministry officials told LDP lawmakers.

The Abe government will earmark roughly 10 billion yen ($92 million) in its fiscal 2020 budget to develop the new jet, setting aside funds for the program for the first time.

Ministry officials noted that Japan needs to provide stronger support for the domestic defense industry to ensure the country maintains the manufacturing technology, production facilities and operational know-how needed to build the plane.

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