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Aerospace & Defense

Kawasaki Heavy and NEC to join Japan fighter jet program

Eight companies come aboard to deploy next-generation aircraft in 2035

A rendering of Japan's next-generation fighter jet (Nikkei montage/source photo from Ministry of Defense via Kyodo)

TOKYO -- Japanese aerospace equipment maker Kawasaki Heavy Industries and electronics company NEC will join the country's next-generation fighter jet program, Nikkei has learned.

The program, overseen by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and supported by Lockheed Martin, aims to develop multirole fighter jets capable of attacking land and sea targets as well as engaging in aerial combat. The government seeks to deploy the aircraft as early as 2035.

Major defense industry companies are collaborating on the jet's development, and negotiations are underway with U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin to provide technological support.

Kawasaki Heavy's and NEC's participation brings the total number of Japanese companies taking part in the program to eight.

Heavy machinery maker IHI is in charge of building the engine. Automaker Subaru and Kawasaki Heavy will engage in the development of the aircraft body. The mission system, which controls electronic warfare, will be developed by Mitsubishi Electric. Toshiba, Fujitsu and NEC will produce electrical equipment, including the radar.

The lineup comes in the wake of the government stating in its midterm defense program that "development will begin as soon as possible, led by our country."

The next-generation aircraft will be the successor to Japan's aging F2 fighter jets, which the country will begin phasing out around 2035.

The government hopes that by contracting domestic players to be the main developers, the technical capabilities of each company will improve. In the longer term, the hope is that expertise and institutional memory can be passed on to future generations. Developing the stealth fighter is also expected to help strengthen the companies' core manufacturing abilities.

Development will be carried out at a Mitsubishi Heavy factory in Aichi Prefecture. The plant will have a design room for each development team, including engine and software.

The companies, which have secured about 200 engineers, plan to increase that number to 500.

Japan's Ministry of Defense in December announced Lockheed Martin will back the program and provide technical support. Tokyo and Washington are negotiating terms and are expected to sign a deal within this year.

One question is to what extent Lockheed is prepared to share its state-of-the-art fighter jet technology.

If Japan and the U.S. can deepen their defense industry ties, the move would go a long way toward strengthening the nations' decades-long alliance.

Japan is also exploring a partnership with the U.K., which also has its own next-generation fighter plan. Expectations are for the nations to collaborate on engines and radar units, and on reducing development and production costs.

British aerospace company BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce are being mentioned as possible partners.

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