TOKYO --- Long relegated to producing U.S.-developed aircraft on contract, Japan's defense industry is aiming to turn the page by building a homegrown fighter jet under the lead of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
Despite ever-growing geopolitical threats, Japan's defense contractors for years have struggled to achieve financial success. The new project could prove a turning point for the industry, though obstacles like a cutthroat bidding process and rising imports remain.
Japan's Defense Ministry on Friday signed a formal agreement with Mitsubishi Heavy for the jets, which will replace the Self-Defense Forces' F-2s being decommissioned starting in 2035. About 90 of the new generation jets are expected to be produced.
"We hope to do this properly to defend the country," a Mitsubishi Heavy executive said.
Also on Friday, Mitsubishi Heavy announced its medium-term plan for the three years through March 2024. News of the fighter jet contract was a much-welcomed bright spot for the company, which logged a 57 billion yen ($545 million) net loss for the April-September half and recently halted development of its SpaceJet commercial airplane.
In developing the fighter jet, Mitsubishi Heavy will be leading a team of Japanese and foreign companies to be chosen as early as this year. There is speculation the entire project could be worth over 5 trillion yen, which could help Mitsubishi Heavy offset the 1 trillion yen it poured into the failed SpaceJet.
A homegrown fighter jet would also allow Mitsubishi Heavy and other Japanese defense contractors to develop their expertise in aircraft development and manufacturing, a highly technical field. Until now, Japan's Air Self-Defense Force relied on planes developed by the U.S., meaning technology from their core parts was not disclosed to Japanese companies.
The new jet "will strengthen the foundation of our defense industry," an industry insider said. (end of excerpt)
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