Japan’s air force has been searching for replacements for its aging fleet of F-4s and F-15s. But its hopes to purchase F-22s from Washington have been hindered by a U.S. Congress export ban and its reluctance to share sensitive military technology with foreign governments.
The key part of the six-year project, to be launched officially next April, involves developing an XF5-1 engine that would allow a fighter jet to be both highly maneuverable and cruise at supersonic speeds, according to the Japanese defense ministry.
“We need fighters that are fitted with highly advanced technology, considering what’s been developed in other countries,” the ministry said in a recent statement. “It is a crucial project in developing fighters that will play a key role in our future fleet and build our space defense.”
Defense officials hope to have a test flight of the prototype, unofficially nicknamed “Shinshin,” or Spirit, by the end of March 2014. The entire project is expected to cost $419.8 million.
The ministry has requested a $141.4 million budget for the initial year, pending government approval, a spokesman said Thursday, on condition he not be named.
Maneuverability and supersonic speeds mean that a jet can go faster, longer, and a radar-evading stealth design makes it harder to detect.
Having homegrown stealth capabilities, rather than relying on foreign imports for key military technology, would also serve as a deterrent and boost national security “in the face of stealth development in China and Russia,” the spokesman said.
Russia is aiming to create a fifth-generation attack fighter by around 2015 as part of its modernization and restructuring of its military.
China has already unveiled its J-10 fighter, which is believed to be one of the most advanced used by any air force in the world today. Beijing is believed to be developing upgraded models, the J-12 and J-14, with stealth capabilities.
Stealth development is part of Japan’s efforts in recent years to build up its air defenses.