Japan May Switch F-X Integration Support Contractor

Japanese F-X fighter concept
F-X concept
Credit: Japanese Ministry of Defense

Japan is considering switching the contractor providing integration support for the F-X fighter development from Lockheed Martin to BAE Systems of the UK, according to news reports citing several unnamed government sources.

Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio met British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in London on May 5 and confirmed that both leaders pledged to reach an agreement on the overall picture of cooperation between Japan and the UK on future fighter jet programs by the end of 2022, in cooperation with allies. 

Meanwhile, Japanese Defense Minister Kishi Nobuo told Japanese reporters in Washington on May 5 that in an exchange of opinions about the F-X, “I explained the possibility of Japan-UK cooperation, and the U.S. side showed understanding and welcomed the progress of Japan-UK cooperation.” The Japanese defense minister also talked with the Italian defense minister about fighter development when his Italian counterpart visited Japan on April 12.

One reason why Japan is considering such a move is gridlock in negotiations with Lockheed Martin regarding the extent of information sharing necessary for Japan’s operational sovereignty—the ability for the country to upgrade the F-X on its own and when it sees fit. An official of the Japanese defense ministry told the Nikkei newspaper that the amount of confidential information not releasable to Japan is an issue in discussions with Lockheed Martin.

Another reason is that both Japan and the UK need new fighters around the same timeframe, the mid-2030s. However, to ensure interoperability with U.S. forces, Lockheed Martin still will be involved in the development of datalink and communication systems, according to reports in Nikkei, the Yomiuri Shimbun and Jiji Press.