Japan’s Air Force Will Include 100 Stealth Fighters

A small fleet, growing below the radar

X-2 In Flight

X-2 In Flight

Stealthy, for everything but eyeballs.Japan Air Self-Defense Force

Only a few nations have ever built stealth fighters. The United States dominates in that arena, with the retired F-117, the in-service F-22, and the soon-to-be-in-service F-35, but it’s not alone. Russia and China are both developing stealthy fighters of their own, and several nations, including Israel and the United Kingdom, joined with the United States to develop and field the F-35. Japan is slowly joining the exclusive stealth club, and it might turn to an indigenously designed plane to do it.

Japan's new stealth fighter program could produce up to 100 fighters, Flight Global reports. One possibility is that these planes could be built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industry, which designed the X-2 stealth fighter demonstrator. The X-2 is more of a proof-of-concept, showing that Japan can build working stealth on its own. A future Japanese stealth plane could be based upon the X-2, or developed with another nation while borrowing lessons from the technology demonstrator.

In the meantime, Japan is building F-35As. The Diplomat writes:

As an interim solution, Japan decided to acquire 42 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters, the first of which are slated for induction into the JASDF at the end of 2016. However, export restrictions continue apply, and despite the aircraft being license-produced by Mitsubishi in Japan, it will not have access to some of the aircraft’s most sensitive technologies.

The F-35A is the cheapest variant of the expensive stealth plane, built for Air Force runways. Designed as a replacement for many different planes, the F-35A is primarily a support aircraft, with bombs and sensors. (Curiously, Japan isn't using the F-35B yet, a vertical takeoff and landing plane that could take off from Japan's small aircraft carriers). For air to air combat, the premier stealth plane is still America's F-22, which the United States no longer produces and refused to export.

If Japan wants to challenge regional rival China's J-20 fighter in the sky, a native stealth design might give it more punch than flying a limited version of the F-35A.