Photo/IllutrationThe F-2 is the main fighter jet used by the Air Self-Defense Force. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

With Finance Ministry officials lurking in the background, hawkish lawmakers in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party continue to battle the Defense Ministry over development of the next-generation fighter jet to replace the F-2.

The LDP lawmakers’ initial plan to have development conducted entirely by Japanese companies was scrapped because of expected high costs and possible engineering pitfalls.

But they have not given up the fight, and are now arguing that Japanese companies should play a leading role in any joint development of the new fighter jet.

However, Finance Ministry officials want to keep spending under control no matter what decision is made on the development project.

The F-2 was jointly developed with the United States and first deployed in fiscal 2000. The shelf life of the fighters is expected to expire around 2030.

The Defense Ministry initially had three options for the next-generation fighter jet: to fully develop it domestically; to develop it jointly with other nations; or to extend the life of the F-2 through various modifications.

The third option was jettisoned because modifications alone would not obtain the required capabilities.

As for full domestic development, Finance Ministry officials said it would be too expensive.

That left joint development as the course taken by the Defense Ministry, but the LDP members are not taking that decision lying down.

At a study session held on Nov. 6, LDP lawmakers discussed a proposal for submission to the Defense Ministry, saying that even with joint development, Japanese companies had to play a leading role.

Those lawmakers want to ensure Japanese defense industry companies secure their share of the profits and to pass on the technological foundation that has been created through past development of fighter jets.

They still have in mind the Defense Ministry’s development of a prototype jet dubbed the X-2, which was confirmed to have high stealth and engine capabilities.

More than 200 companies took part in the X-2 project, including Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., and 93 percent of the prototype was made in Japan.

The Defense Ministry, however, has already received responses from three foreign companies after a request for information (RFI) was issued.

One proposal submitted by Lockheed Martin Corp. of the United States was a hybrid model that would combine the stealth capabilities of its F-35 jet onto the body of the F-22, considered the world’s strongest fighter jet.

Moreover, Lockheed Martin’s proposal said Japanese companies would be given responsibility for more than half of the development and production work.

The other proposals from abroad were submitted by Boeing Co., also from the United States, and Britain’s BAE Systems Plc.

Regardless of which fighter jet is developed, Finance Ministry officials will be casting a sharp eye to ensure costs do not balloon.

The budget for the new fighter jet is expected to be worth trillions of yen. Such spending would come on top of six straight years of increases in the defense budget.

The initial figure for defense spending in the current fiscal year was 5.191 trillion yen ($46 billion).

Because payments must be made on expensive equipment contracted in the past, only about 1 trillion yen a year in the defense budget can be freely used for new projects.

And there is always the possibility that development expenses and manufacturing costs will increase.

“In order to keep expenses down, there has to be other ways of pursuing the development of the jet and placing the orders for the jets,” a Finance Ministry official said.

(This article was written by Shinichi Fujiwara and Tsuneo Sasai.)