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Aerospace & Defense

Japan targets 2031 production start of homegrown stealth fighter

Plane's development was promised in defense buildup plan

A prototype of Japan's X-2 experimental stealth fighter is displayed at a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries factory.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Japan plans to begin mass production of a cutting-edge, domestically developed fighter jet in fiscal 2031, aiming to start deployment in 2035 when its fleet of aging F-2 planes is scheduled to be retired, according to plan presented Tuesday by the Defense Ministry.

Tokyo pledged a prompt start on development of the new stealth fighter in its defense buildup plan hammered out in 2018, envisioning Japan supplying key components such as the engine while working with the U.S. on technology.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is the main contractor building an experimental aircraft, the X-2, on which the fighter will be based. That plane began flying in 2016, making Japan the fourth country after the U.S., Russia and China to have developed a stealth aircraft.

Prototype production is slated to start in fiscal 2024. Basic designs for key parts and more detailed blueprints are to be finalized by fiscal 2027, with test flights commencing the following year.

The ministry earmarked about 11 billion yen ($102 million) in the fiscal 2020 budget for basic design and other costs. Japan intends to select one or more defense contractors as partners and sign deals this year, forging a framework for developing the fighter in preparation for the fiscal 2021 budget proposal.

Japan will hold talks with the U.S. on ways to ensure interoperability between their defense systems and on the introduction of American technology. Tokyo also will discuss potential cooperation, including sharing development costs, with the U.K. -- which is developing its own next-generation fighter under a similar time frame.

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