Japan Breaks Pacifist Past: To Sell DEADLY New F-X Fighter Jet to 15 Countries, Including India

The United Kingdom, Italy, and Japan are collaborating on a programme for stealth next-generation fighter jets. Recently, Japan relaxed export restrictions to permit sales to fifteen countries. Jet is intended to function as an interoperable "system of systems" command centre. Exports are anticipated to commence in 2035, with production commencing in 2031.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

The Japanese government is developing a stealth fighter aircraft in collaboration with the United Kingdom and Italy and is attempting to permit its export. Current restrictions prohibit exporting jointly designed and completed defence products to any country except development partner nations.

On March 15, the Japanese government authorised exporting fighter aircraft manufactured under the Global Combat Air Program (GCAP) to fifteen countries, including Australia, India, and Indonesia. 

The sixth-generation jet, designed to replace ageing Air Self-Defense Force F-2 fighters as well as British and Italian Eurofighters, is expected to be ready for export and deployment by 2035 — a lofty goal given the difficulties of developing such an advanced platform, especially across international borders. 

Tokyo, London, and Rome agreed in December 2023 to establish the GCAP International Government Organisation (GIGO) to run the project and agree on joint tasks and responsibilities among the trilateral partners.

GIGO will define the aircraft’s overall capability requirements while supervising the industrial constructs entrusted with delivering those standards in a timely and cost-effective manner.

Since Japan revised its security policy in December 2022, the most recent modification to its materiel transfer regulations is the relaxation of export restrictions on the F-X fighter aircraft. The opposition parties have agreed to it under the condition that the revision shall be limited to the F-X fighter aircraft. Cabinet sanctions will be mandatory for all exports of fighter jets, and access will be restricted to nations that have established defence agreements with Japan. Additionally, the participants clarified that sales to nations embroiled in armed conflict were prohibited.

The programme participants have also indicated their intent to export the aircraft to offset the expenses associated with its development and production. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) of Japan, Leonardo of Italy, and BAE Systems of the U.K. are the three companies in charge of the Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP). 

IHI, Rolls-Royce, and Avio Aero are all involved in developing engines and propulsion systems. Mitsubishi Electric, MBDA U.K., and MBDA Italy will collaborate to develop the aircraft’s future weapon systems. Concurrently, these businesses are anticipated to employ hundreds of subcontractors.

The formal participation of other nations in the multilateral endeavour remains uncertain, as does the timing of their entry. This initiative signifies Japan’s inaugural collaboration with countries other than the United States to fulfil a significant defence need. Without participation, India will be a problematic customer.

Cabinet sanctions will be mandatory for all exports of fighter jets, and access will be restricted to nations that have established defence agreements with Japan. Additionally, the participants clarified that sales to nations embroiled in armed conflict were prohibited. The revisions are anticipated to be approved by the Japanese Cabinet later this month, allowing partners to unveil the F-X jet’s initial designs.

The U.K.’s deputy prime minister expressed approval on March 22 of Japan’s decision to relax export regulations for defence technology, which would enable the sale of next-generation fighter aircraft that the U.K. and Italy jointly developed to third-party nations.

With bulk production of the tri-national Global Combat Aircraft Programme (GCAP) scheduled to commence in 2031, Tokyo’s action clears a significant obstacle.

Since the program’s inception in December 2022, London and Rome have advocated for the export of GCAP aircraft to third-party nations to mitigate the substantially increased production expenses associated with these jets. Tokyo’s delay on the matter was primarily attributable to opposition from Komeito, the coalition partner of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and an ardent supporter of Japan’s constitutional pacifism.

Dowden said the United Kingdom is very satisfied with the fifteen countries Japan has agreed to export, given that they represent a substantial portion of the global defence market. However, he said more exporting countries and participants would be welcome if Japan, Italy, and the United Kingdom were amenable to the possibility. He stated that the ability to export to other nations contributes to the viability of GCAP.

The overseas export of the aircraft is opposed by 45% of the Japanese public, while 40% are in favour, according to a survey conducted by the Asahi Shimbun from March 16-17.

What We Know about GCAP?

The stealthy fighter is planned to serve as both a combat aircraft and a flying command centre capable of controlling and managing other, most likely autonomous, weapons, with the aircraft positioned as “the centrepiece of a larger combat air system that will function across several domains.”

Regarding interoperability, the jet is also being built with the U.S. military and other NATO forces in mind since Japan, Italy, and the United Kingdom all intend to use the fighter in joint operations with friends and partners.

The new aircraft is expected to be more difficult to detect in the electromagnetic spectrum than previous-generation fighters. It is also capable of monitoring threats over longer distances and in more frequency bands.

The British Ministry of Defence has stated that the fighter will use next-generation technologies to become one of the most sophisticated, adaptable, interoperable, and networked fighter jets worldwide. It also highlighted its formidable radar, capable of delivering 10,000 times more data than existing systems.

The effort will produce a single-configuration core aircraft that will be the key to a “system of systems,” a type of command and operating centre that can talk to things on land, sea, air, cyberspace, and space.

At the same time, each partner country can change and adapt the jet in any way, time, place, or speed they choose, mostly regarding software. The extent to which the developers will share intellectual property rights (IPR) remains unknown.


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