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Stealth and Strength –  Japan to Equip Next-Gen Fighters with Home-Grown Air-to-Air Missiles

The government of Japan has chosen to continue with the development of home-grown air-to-air missiles. These missiles will be installed on the next-generation fighter aircraft that will be developed in collaboration with the United Kingdom and Italy. The development of these missiles is expected to be finished by the year 2035, which is also the year when the first aircraft associated with this project is scheduled to be deployed. To further improve the aircraft’s ability to engage in combat, discussions will also take place over the possibility of incorporating additional types of missiles, such as those deployed by the United Kingdom, Italy, and other nations.

According to recent reports, a European consortium of six countries, including the United Kingdom and Italy, plans to install the “Meteor” air-to-air missile onto the next generation of fighter aircraft. This missile is currently installed on aircraft such as the “Eurofighter Typhoon.” In the past, the Japanese Ministry of Defence collaborated with the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence on research projects to investigate the prospect of mounting Meteor missiles aboard Japan’s fighter aircraft. Nevertheless, Japan feels that developing locally produced missiles would be more advantageous regarding functionality, performance, and cost. This belief is based on the fact that there are variations in the propulsion systems as well as other elements.

In 2010, Japan started discussing the possibility of developing a fighter aircraft of the next generation to replace its F-2 fighters. According to the information made public by Japan’s Ministry of Defence, the work on developing essential technologies began in 2010, and the design phase was launched in 2021 to complete the aircraft model before 2030. In 2018, the Japanese military gave the next-generation fighter aircraft a working designation of F-3. In 2022, Japanese media reported that the UK’s BAE Systems would develop major aircraft structure components. Italy would also participate in the project, effectively making the aircraft a collaborative effort among Japan, the UK, and Italy.

The performance of the F-3 fighter aircraft, classified as a heavy, long-range multi-role fighter, falls somewhere between aircraft of the fifth and sixth generations. It places a premium on air superiority while also having the ability to launch strikes on the ground and at sea. The aircraft is planned to be outfitted with stealth technology, and its internal armament bays are accessible to the pilot.

According to reports, Japan, the United Kingdom, and Italy are making progress on the fundamental design of the aircraft’s structure as well as the particular design of its engine. To make development more efficient, officials are discussing setting up an international body to make decisions for defence departments. They are also thinking about putting together groups of companies from each country’s aerospace industry.

Since the end of World War II, Japan has developed and manufactured a large number of air-to-air missiles domestically. The AAM-4 is a missile designed for air-to-air engagements at medium ranges, whereas the AAM-5 is developed particularly for dogfight scenarios and has a shorter effective range. Both of these missiles are currently deployed in active service. These two air-to-air missiles are widely recognised as the most advanced examples of this technology globally.



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