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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Japan's Domestic Stealth Fighter Ambitions - Assessment of the Proposed F-3


Image 1: ATD-X aircraft

In June Japan's Technical Research and Development Institute (TRDI) developed ATD-X was first unveiled to the public. Japan initially launched the program as part of an effort to persuade the United States to export the F-22 Raptor which was banned for export by Congress in 2004 (Axe, 2011). However, Japan currently has three principal uses for the ATD-X: a testbed for the development of counter-stealth technologies, to assist in the development of both fifth fighter technologies in tandem with the sixth generation i3 concept in an attempt to gain access to co-development of the next sixth generation American fighter program, and - if Japan cannot gain co-development rights - then proceed with a domestically produced sixth generation F-3 aircraft (Perrett, 2014). Former defense minister Onodera has indicated Japan will decide whether to proceed with domestic production in 2018 upon reviewing a potential partnership with the United States. The most probable outcome will likely be similar to the following:

  • The United States will rebuff the Japanese offer for sixth generation co-development 
  • Japan will in turn proceed with its domestic development program under significant diplomatic pressure from the United States to terminate the program
  • Japan's low defense budget and limited defense aerospace industry will either force Japan to cancel the program after few years at which point: 
    • The US will likely attempt to co-opt Japan with an offer for a much more limited role in the American program sixth generation program than originally desired by the Japanese Government (to eliminate competition in the fighter export market) 
  •  OR Japan will continue with development of the F-3 despite the high opportunity costs with only a few dozen F-3 aircraft produced    
While the plausible series of events described above are certainly bleak from Japan's perspective, one cannot reasonably conclude Japan's defense aerospace industry could mass produce a sixth generation aircraft by 2030. Not only will the inherent limitation's of Japan's own defense industry constrain the development of the F-3, but also the United States will exert immense diplomatic pressure on the Government of Japan to cancel the F-3 program. Part I will detail the prospects for the joint development of a sixth generation aircraft between the United States and Japan as well as examining the inherent weakness of Japan's defense aerospace industry. Part II will examine how the US will pressure the Government of Japan should it continue with the development of the F-3, how the F-3 program would unfold if unhindered by the US and given budgetary priority by the Japanese Government, and the strategic impact the F-3 would have in the Asia-Pacific region.


 Prospects for an American Partnership



Image 2: F-X sixth generation fighter concept by Lockheed Martin

Japan has indicated a preference for American co-development route over the domestic production and development route. However, it is unlikely the United States will allow Japan to participate in the development of either the USAF F-X or USN F/A-XX sixth generation fighter programs at an early stage (Japan is likely soliciting entry in the USAF program). The first USAF sixth generation aircraft will be a high-end air dominance platform designed to replace the F-22 Raptor while the USN intends to procure a sixth generation replacement to the F/A-18E Super Hornet; both services aim to field the aircraft in the early 2030s.

In a similar manner as the Raptor, the first USAF sixth generation aircraft will incorporate numerous sensitive and revolutionary technologies not initially available in other platforms. Given the sensitivity of the technologies incorporated in its design, its unclear if the US would be willing to allow for co-development - or even export - given the recent history with the F-22 program. While the USAF and USN are in the process of defining which key technologies will constitute sixth generation capabilities, the US maintains a competitive advantage in all of the most likely technologies including: variable-cycle engines, gallium nitride based radar arrays, directed energy weapons, multi-frequency band stealth, "artificial intelligence" (more likely a form of data management software), and limited "self-healing" capabilities such as the vehicle system network (VSN) in use on the F-35.

It remains unclear, from the American perspective, to what extent the US could benefit from Japanese participation in development of the F-X aircraft. The US maintains a comparative advantage in all the aforementioned technologies a result of its significantly greater Research Development Test and Evaluation (RDT&E) budget which is $63 billion for FY 2014, larger than Japan's entire $49 billion  FY 2015 defense budget.


Image 3: Lockheed Martin Falcon 10 test aircraft equipped with Aero-Adaptive/Aero-Optic Beam Control (ABC). Solid state lasers have made substantial advancements in recent years under US Navy, Air Force, and DARPA programs. Directed energy weapons such as Lockheed Martin's ABC have the potential to intercept enemy missiles and aircraft. The 150 kilowatt High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS) could also be employed against ground targets. Image Credit: Air Force Research Laboratory

While Japan is certainly a stalwart ally of the United States, Washington has credible reasons to be protective of the American defense industry. Even if Japan were unable to be in a position to credibly compete with the United States in arms exports, which is largely the case as detailed in the next section, Japan has had several incidents of leaks related to sensitive US systems. In 2007, a Japanese officer was arrested after leaking radar and transmission frequencies for the US Aegis system. The incident prompted the US to temporarily halt shipments of components related to upgrading Japan's Kongo-class destroyers. The US concern over the limited ability of Japan to retain US sensitive technological secrets promoted Japan to enact a new state secrets law in 2013 which details harsh new penalties for those who leak classified information (Lucy, 2013). While the new law will assuage Washington's concerns to some extent, its unlikely Washington will fundamentally shift its position toward co-development (counter intelligence remains a concern, particularly against Chinese intelligence services).

The US has only shown a consistent willingness to co-develop systems that incorporate technologies already in use by the US military such as the SM-3 Raytheon-Mitsubishi partnership or to some extent the F-35 (though largely co-production rather than foreign assistance in early R&D work with the exception of BAE Systems and Elbit Systems). In summary, the US Government remains wary of the possibility that sensitive US produced technology could be obtained by foreign companies and nations from both an economic and national security perspective and it is unlikely that concern will change in future decades.


Limitations of Japan's Domestic Defense Aerospace Industry 


Image 4: Japanese F-2 fighter 

Upon being denied entry into the American F-X program, Japan will likely pursue a domestically produced 6th generation aircraft. However, the inherent limitation's of Japan's defense industry will either result in the eventual termination of the F-3 program or a limited production run of only a few dozen aircraft. The Japanese defense aerospace industry has been unable to cost effectively design and produce military aircraft in large quantities for the last three decades. Until recently, Japan's self imposed arms export ban limited sales to the domestic market. Furthermore, Japan's annual defense budget for the last decade has equaled approximately 1% of GDP with the FY 2015 budget allocating $49 billion toward defense. The result of comparatively low military budgets combined with limited production orders from the domestic market has historically resulted in Japanese defense aerospace firms being unable to achieve economies of scale production (Axe, 2011).

The net effect being Japanese domestically produced fighter aircraft are much more expensive than their international equivalents and few Japanese aircraft are produced. For example, the flyaway cost for a Mitsubishi F-2 is $136 million in 2014 dollars, more than three times the cost of the F-16C Block 50/52+ from which the design was based and more than the flyaway cost for a current F-35A under the recent LRIP 7 contract (Defense Industry Daily & Butler, 2014). While the F-2 incorporates modest improvements over the F-16 C Block 50/52+ design, the improvements are not proportionate to increase in cost. Similarly, Japanese produced F-35s are expected to cost 27% more than their American manufactured equivalents due to the incorporation of Japanese made components (Defense Industry Daily, 2014).

The Government of Japan has been consistently willing to support its domestic defense industry at the cost of potentially greater defense capabilities, which would result from the deployment of more numerous imported systems, and will likely continue to do so. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries, and other domestic defense firms have strong ties with both the Japanese Diet and are the source of tens of thousands of jobs within the Japanese economy. However, the development of the F-3 will cost more than any other Japanese aerospace program to date.



Image 5:Japan is in the process of upgrading its fourth generation fighter force. License built F-15Js and F-15DJs compose the majority of the Japanese self defense force;s (JSDF) fighter aircraft fleet with 223 in Japan's inventory. Japan's fleet of F-15s are undergoing mid-life upgrades which include improvements to the central computer, electronic counter-measures system, radar, Integrated Electronic Warfare System (IEWS), and the inclusion of new weapon systems (IHS Janes, 2013).

General Hideyuki Yoshioka estimates the total program cost will be $100 billion over the service lives of the aircraft, assuming a few dozen are produced (Axe, 2011). Richard Aboulafia, an aviation expert from the Teal Group, estimates the development costs alone for the F-3 program will be at least $20 billion. The enormous funds required to develop, produce, and maintain the F-3 are incongruent with Japan's aggregate defense expenditures. In order for the full production and development of the F-3 to be plausible, Japan cannot continue to spend merely 1% of its GDP on defense without massive cuts to other Japanese weapon programs.


Sources


  1. Japan to encourage universities to develop military technologies, Jon Grevatt, 2014. http://www.janes.com/article/42535/japan-to-encourage-universities-to-develop-military-technologies
  2. ATD-X Emerges Amid Japanese Fighter Choices, Bradley Perrett, 2014. http://aviationweek.com/defense/atd-x-emerges-amid-japanese-fighter-choices
  3. Japanese MoD denies reports of 2015 first flight for ATD-X prototype, Kosuke Takahashi, 2014.                                                                                                                                                 http://www.janes.com/article/41815/japanese-mod-denies-reports-of-2015-first-flight-for-atd-x-prototype
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  5. Japan to develop stealth-detecting long-range radar, Kosuke Takahashi, 2014. http://www.janes.com/article/27447/japan-to-develop-stealth-detecting-long-range-radar
  6. Onodera says Japan may buy more F-35s 'if price is right', Kosuke Takahashi & James Hardy, 2014.                                                                                                                                   http://www.janes.com/article/40622/onodera-says-japan-may-buy-more-f-35s-if-price-is-right
  7. F-35 Deal Targets Unit Cost Below $100 Million, Amy Butler, 2013. http://aviationweek.com/defense/f-35-deal-targets-unit-cost-below-100-million
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  9. UCLASS Requirements Shifted To Preserve Navy’s Next Generation Fighter, Dave Majumdar & Sam LaGrone, 2014.                                                                                                           http://news.usni.org/2014/07/31/uclass-requirements-shifted-preserve-navys-next-generation-fighter
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6 comments:

  1. I think it would be smart for them to propose a joint venture with India (and perhaps Korea) due to their similar program. India's interests are similar and they could lower the cost of the production model.

    If that were to work out I wouldn't be surprised if there were buyers in Korea, Taiwan, ASEAN countries, Europe and Israel. Many of them wanted the F-22 after all.

    If they can't secure any joint venture, then I agree that the program won't go far. With the F-35 and 6th generation on its way, the only reason countries would want to get involved is to preserve their design and production capability if they aren't involved in the F-35.

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    1. I'll talk about the prospect for foreign orders of the F-3 in part II but the long story is costs would still be very high. The US and Russia are the largest arms exporters in part because their domestic markets are so large as to drive down the costs of systems which then can be exported for lower cost relative to their peers. Japan's domestic market will not have a similar economies of scale advantage on its own like the US and Russian defense industry.

      Also arms sales/competitions are rarely merit based evaluations, they are means to solidify diplomatic and military relations. Japan's pacifist constitution, even with the recent Cabinet level reinterpretation on Article 9, inherently limits the prospect of military alliances beyond the US. One of the reasons the US dominates the global arms market is attributable toward many nations seeking to expand or solidify ties with the US. Plus the US offers its extensive military expertise as a bonus in most sales such as training programs in the US e.g. Singapore and F-16s at Luke AFB. Japan has much less experience in training foreign forces. The biggest obstacle is Japan would be competing with the US market share of countries opposed to China in the Asia-Pacific and many of those countries are US allies who would prioritize US ties over Japan.

      India probably is the most likely contender at this point but it would almost not be worth it from Japan's perspective given how notoriously incompetent India's domestic defense industry is. The limitations of HAL on the PAK FA and the Su-30 MKI show very little progress has been made. The comparatively Tejas is straining HAL's capabilities so the planned 5th generation Indian aircraft, let alone a 6th, remains widely outside of their capabilities in the near term.

      Thought you might find this interesting, F-22s used in combat for the first time over Syria: http://www.defensenews.com/article/20140922/DEFREG04/309220020/US-Begins-Airstrikes-Islamic-State-Targets-Syria

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  2. Why wouldn't United States want Japan to domestically build its own 6th Gen Fighter? From what the article said, it seems Japan may already assume that U.S. would stop Japan at some point in the process. My question is why, if U.S. can't provide Japan what it wants, why can't the go it alone?

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    1. Given the history of fighter development between the US and its allies, my understanding is many in the US would view it as a win-win situation from the US perspective if Japan can't produce its own fighter, which would be a potential competitor for the F-X - and Japan subsequently buys a downgraded version of the F-X latter on. Thus, sensitive US technology is protected and the US has an intellectual monopoly on it as well as reduced competition in the high end fighter market.

      Its a matter of self interest which is not specific to US defense aerospace firms. Given the restricted funding under sequestration, some level of cooperation may be warranted. The problem would be work share agreements and technology transfer. As the Russia-India PAK FA "joint development" process shows, its a major headache. A 50-50 partnership would be untenable from the US perspective if we were to pursue some sort of partnership given the inflated cost of domestic Japanese fighter production relative to the US' economies of scale plus some sort of intellectual property agreement would have to be reached.

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