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.
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
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.
- 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
- ATD-X Emerges Amid Japanese Fighter Choices, Bradley Perrett, 2014. http://aviationweek.com/defense/atd-x-emerges-amid-japanese-fighter-choices
- 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
- Japan's indigenous stealth jet prototype 'to fly this year', Kosuke Takahashi, 2014. http://www.janes.com/article/36713/japan-s-indigenous-stealth-jet-prototype-to-fly-this-year
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Japanese MoD Budget, 2014. http://www.mod.go.jp/e/d_budget/pdf/260130.pdf
- 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
- Air Force Seeks Laser Weapons for Next Generation Fighters, Dave Majumdar, 2013. http://news.usni.org/2013/11/20/air-force-seeks-laser-weapons-next-generation-fighters
- Navy’s Next Fighter Likely to Feature Artificial Intelligence, Dave Majumdar, 2014. http://news.usni.org/2014/08/28/navys-next-fighter-likely-feature-artificial-intelligence
- Next Generation Engine Work Points to Future U.S. Fighter Designs, Dave Majumdar, 2013. http://news.usni.org/2014/06/23/next-generation-engine-work-points-future-u-s-fighter-designs
- GaN Revolution, Dave Majumdar, 2011. http://www.defensenews.com/article/20110228/DEFFEAT01/102280305/GaN-Revolution
- Report: Israel Passes U.S. Military Technology to China, Bryant Jordan, 2013. http://defensetech.org/2013/12/24/report-israel-passes-u-s-military-technology-to-china/
- Japan Aims To Launch F-3 Development In 2016-17, Bradley Perrett, 2012. http://aviationweek.com/awin/japan-aims-launch-f-3-development-2016-17
- Japan military school raided over Aegis data leak, Martyn Williams, 2007. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/05/21/AR2007052100710.html
- Intelligence: Japan Plugs Aegis Leak, Stragegy Page, 2007. http://www.strategypage.com/htmw/htintel/20071216.aspx
- Japan's State Secrets Law: Hailed By U.S., Denounced By Japanese, Lucy Craft, 2013. http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2013/12/31/258655342/japans-state-secrets-law-hailed-by-u-s-denounced-by-japanese
- Japan’s New Fighter a $100-Billion Program?, Kyle Mizokami, 2011. http://www.warisboring.com/2011/03/10/japans-new-fighter-a-100-billion-dollar-program/
- DARPA Plans to Arm Drones With Missile-Blasting Lasers, Allen McDuffee, 2011. http://www.wired.com/2013/11/drone-lasers/
- Navy to Test-Fire DARPA's Hellads Laser, Graham Warwick, 2013. http://aviationweek.com/blog/navy-test-fire-darpas-hellads-laser
- DARPA testing planes with a 'Star Wars'-style laser cannon, Eric Mack, 2014. http://www.cnet.com/news/darpa-is-testing-planes-with-a-star-wars-style-laser-cannon/
- Defense Industry Daily, 2014. http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/darpas-abc-of-airborne-lasers-09164/
- F-15J, Global Security, 2011. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/japan/f-15j.htm
- Japan Responds to Regional Threats With Air Power Boost, Chris Pocock , 2014. http://www.ainonline.com/aviation-news/singapore-air-show/2014-02-12/japan-responds-regional-threats-air-power-boost
- Lockheed's New Laser Super Turret Could Change Air Combat Forever, Tyler Rogoway, 2014. http://foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com/lockheeds-new-laser-super-turret-could-change-air-comba-1635210849