f-35-japanAccording to the August 22 Asahi Shimbun, it has been confirmed that Japanese companies Mitsubishi Electric and IHI will manufacture 24 components of the F-35 related to the engine and radar. These components normally would account for an estimated 10 percent of the total cost of an F-35A unit. As the manufacturing of these components will be restricted to the airframes going to the SDF, economies of scale and other factors will likely lead to an estimated 150 percent increase in the cost of a unit compared to if Japan was simply purchasing a finished F-35A unit off-the-shelf from the United States. Mitsubish Electric will manufacture 7 components of the radar, and IHI will manufacture 17 fan and turbine components of the engine. The article also alludes to the possibility that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries will be included in some way or form in the manufacturing of the rear fuselage, wings, and undercarriage. This will be important for Japanese industry to gain a greater understanding of low-observability (stealth) technology and manufacture.

In the figure that can be seen on this page, the red indicates those components of the F-35A that Mitsubishi Electric and IHI will take part in manufacturing, while the blue indicates the elements that Mistubishi Heavy Industries may play a role in manufacturing. While the first four F-35As ordered from Lockheed last year will be finished products, Japanese firms will start participating in the manufacture of components from the two airframes to be ordered by the Japanese government this year.

The very likely inclusion of MHI in the project raises the possibility that the F-35s that Japan will purchase may cost 2 times more than an off-the-shelf unit will. Clearly, considerations relating to the development of Japan’s own military industrial base are driving the policy decisions in this particular case, more than perhaps any appreciated need for a large number of F-35As themselves. Technological insights gained  from the manufacture of components related to low-observability will go into Mitsubishi Heavy Industry’s ongoing ATD-X  ”F-3″ development (the technology demonstrator scheduled to be tested in 2014), which raises the possibility for an indigenous Japanese fighter to be deployed in the late 2020s to replace the Mitsubishi F-2s and F-15Js. Not only is MHI also in the process of constructing its own technology demonstrator, but IHI reportedly has its own plans to develop a technology-demonstrator engine capable of generating 15 metric tons of thrust – two of which could easily power an airframe worthy of replacing the F-15Js. The linkage between these plans, and the F-35 manufacture, is quite clear. It would also seem to fit broadly within the plans of the MOD, and Japanese defense industry, identified by Bradley Perret at Aviation Week, to lay the groundwork for the acquisition of technologies from domestic and international sources that would be necessary for an indigenous Japanese fighter to be assembled, if necessary.

Perhaps as likely (if not more likely), these technologies, plus the industrial “threat” of Japan developing its own indigenous fighter, could be used as leverage/justification for gaining a greater participating share in any future cross-national development/manufacturing project. Japan’s F-XX fighter procurement will in a few years start to garner greater attention, although if Japan wants to offer the US the technologies it is assembling as a contribution to the replacement for the F-35, then some other option may have to be explored in the interim to replace the F-2s and F-15Js given the timing of the various projects.

In other defense aviation-related news, Japan has also indicated that it will look to purchase the Osprey, likely to be introduced in 2015 (Yomiuri Shimbun (日), 20 August), and it is also dedicating an increase in funds to $2 million to study the acquisition of the Global Hawk UAV which will come in use for monitoring the situation on the Korean peninsula and Japan’s southern maritime periphery (Asahi Shimbun (日), 22 August).

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Corey Wallace joined Japan Security Watch in 2011. He writes on Japan security-related topics, focusing on issues and stories that may not find their way into the English language media. He also hosts the blog Sigma1 where he writes on Japanese domestic politics and broader issues in international relations. Prior to taking up a PhD Corey was a participant on the JET program (2004-2007) and on returning to New Zealand he worked at the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology from 2007-2010 as a policy adviser. Corey lectures two courses at the University of Auckland. One is on the international relations of the Asia-Pacific, which contains a significant focus on East Asia security issues. The other is a course on China's international relations. His primary academic interests before his current Japan focus were science and technology politics/policy, issues of ethnic identity, and Chinese modern history and politics. He carries over his interest in issues of identity and history into his PhD where he is looking at generationally situated concepts of national identity and their impact on foreign policy ideas in Japan.
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