The Mitsubishi F-3 project is planned to replace F-2 fighters, an F-16 version manufactured under a US license, which began production from 1996 until 2011.
In response to concerns about security in the region, Japan decided to develop a type of domestic fighter that had an overwhelming power to protect its airspace. Recently, the Japan Ministry of Defense has released some remarkable information and new documents on the F-3, the sixth generation fighter development project.
In December 2019, Japan released images that reflected their current views on the project. The F-3 project is planned to replace F-2 fighters, an F-16 version manufactured under a US license, which began production from 1996 until 2011. The main objective of the F-3 project is the comprehensive renovation of the Japanese Air Force tactical squadron.
Reportedly, a comprehensive design review of the F-3 has been planned with a budget for defense of 2020 at 28 billion yen, or more than 250 million dollars. As planned, the F-2s will remain operational until 2030. Until then, Japan’s ambition is to formally build the first prototype by 2021, and the first test flight is expected to begin in 2030. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is designated as the major developer of the F-3 fighter, along with other companies, including foreign companies.
The F-3 fighter is considered to be one of the world’s leading military programs in the near future. It is estimated that 5,000 billion yen is needed to complete this program, which is equivalent to about 45 billion dollars. The cost of each F-3 is likely to exceed 20 billion yen, or 179 million dollars. The development of the F-3 stealth fighter is also a way for Japan to boost its ability to build domestic fighters, to avoid dependence on foreign supplies.
In fact, the F-3 is a further development of Japan’s Advanced Technology Demonstrator X program, or ATD-X, which began in 2000s. This aircraft is widely known in Japan as X-2 Shinshin. By 2016, Japan showed an important step forward in modern aircraft manufacturing technology when successfully testing the X-2 Shinshin prototype of the ATD-X program. This event brought Japan to the club of nations capable of developing and testing fifth-generation fighters.
After Washington refused to sell the F-22 Raptor in 1998, Tokyo quietly developed its own fifth generation fighter, the Mitsubishi X-2 Shinshin. But the Shinshin project was only served as a tech-demonstrator. Tokyo then faltered at the cost estimated $ 40 billion, and the project was frozen.
After X-2 Shinshin, Japan continued to pursue the goal of producing the 6th generation stealth fighter. Currently, the F-3 project is in the early stages and some features of the aircraft have not been specified or not yet published. Basically it will still be based on the design of its predecessor X-2. According to the National Interest, one thing is for sure, the F-3 will be a twin-engine fighter capable of mounting six internal weapons. Highly different sketches of Japanese engineers show that the final design remains a mystery.
Japan has been seeking foreign partners to cooperate in developing the F-3. One theory that is of most public interest is Lockheed Martin’s proposal for a “hybrid” aircraft generation between the F-22 airframe and the advanced avionics of the F-35. This hypothesis sounds very appealing, but the bill for such an aircraft is extremely expensive, estimated at $ 215 million each.
There are also reports that Japan will apply existing technologies to the F-3. In 2019, Japan began testing XF-9-1 low-bypass turbofans developed by Ishikawa Heavy Industries. This engine produces dry thrust of 11 to 12 tons and 15 to 16.5 tons with afterburner, and withstand temperatures of 1,800 degrees Celsius. Compared to the F-119 engines of the F-22, which generate a dry thrust of 13 tons and increases to 17.5 tons afterburner thrus, the XF-9 is a half-meter shorter and 30 centimeters slimmer, so it has more room for internal weaponry than the F-22.
Japan is also thought to be researching three-dimensional thrust-vectoring nozzles. This is considered to be the most modern system today capable of helping fighters with extremely good maneuverability in the air with incredible acrobatic movements. If successful, the F-3 can rank above the most modern fighters in the world today such as the F-22 and Su-35 in the ability to dodge missiles at close range.
Technologies tested in the X-2 that could reappear in the F-3 include EMP-resistant fiber-optic fly-by-wire avionics, and ‘self-repairing’ flight systems that detect and automatically compensate for damage to an aircraft’s control-surfaces.
Although Japan possesses many modern technologies, it is not easy to integrate all of this technology into an aircraft. Besides, production costs are also a headache. However, if successful, the F-3 program will help Japan demonstrate its self-reliance ability in developing the world’s most advanced fighters, out of its long dependence on the United States and foreign partners.