Lockheed Martin Aeronautics is working with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries on a proposed new fighter jet to replace Japan’s aging fleet of aircraft based on the company’s F-16 Fighting Falcon.
Lockheed Martin has responded to a request for information from the Japanese defense department about a replacement aircraft for the F-2, said Bill Phelps, a Lockheed spokesman in Maryland.
Phelps couldn’t provide a timeline for the F-2 replacement project, or say how it might impact employment in Fort Worth, where the F-16 was originally designed and built. But Lockheed’s experience with the F-2 makes the company a prime candidate for building its replacement.
“We think, based on our experience and our work in Japan, we’re well positioned to meet the country’s needs,” Phelps said.
Japan also is a customer for Lockheed Martin’s F-35 stealth fighter.
The company’s involvement in the project with Mitsubishi was first reported in the Nikkei Asian Review after Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson responded to questions at the Japan Aerospace 2016 trade show. Hewson was quoted as saying: “We will be a part of that process.”
Based on the F-16, the F-2 is a single-engine, multirole fighter jet with a slightly larger wingspan, longer fuselage and bigger tail assembly. The aircraft’s ability to cover large areas of land and sea has made it a major player in Japan’s defense forces because of rising political tensions.
The Japanese defense ministry originally planned to buy more than 130 airplanes, but eventually the F-2 order was scaled back to about 90. Roughly 60 percent of the aircraft was built in Japan, and 40 percent in the United States. The first F-2 was deployed in 2001, according to Defense Industry Daily.
Thirteen F-2s were damaged in the 2011 tsunami, Phelps said, and Lockheed was a subcontractor in a restoration project that has been completed. Mitsubishi’s portion is still underway.
Japan is also a foreign military customer for the F-35 stealth fighter along with Israel and South Korea. Last month, the country celebrated the rollout of its first F-35 at the Lockheed plant in west Fort Worth.
The fighter was the first of 42 planes ordered by Japan to beef up its air defenses to defend the nation from other growing military threats in East Asia, particularly North Korea.
The first four F-35 aircraft for Japan are being built in Fort Worth, which is in the midst of a $1 billion upgrade of its plant to handle increased production. The remaining 38 aircraft will be built at Mitsubishi’s final assembly and checkout facility in Nagoya, Japan.