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Defense Ministry may develop new jet fighter based on F-22 with Lockheed Martin

TOKYO -- The joint development of a next-generation stealth fighter jet based on the F-22 with U.S. defense giant Lockheed Martin is emerging as a likely candidate for the Ministry of Defense's plan to replace the F-2 fighter in the 2030s, according to people close to the arrangement.

The new jet would use Japan's own technology in core components such as the engine. A plan to develop a new fighter jet is likely to be incorporated in the next midterm defense program that will be finalized by the end of this year, after which the joint Japan-U.S. development project will likely be launched.

The Defense Ministry began investigating the feasibility of a joint development plan with Lockheed Martin after the company changed its proposal from an F-22 upgrade to developing a new model together. The ministry intends to utilize the new fighter as multifunctional aircraft capable of air to air, anti-ship, and ground operations that can be deployed to defend remote islands.

The F-22 is said to be "the world's most powerful fighter jet" with its stealth and other capabilities. However, it is also very costly, and its production was suspended in 2009 during the administration of former U.S. President Barack Obama. The Defense Ministry once tried to introduce the F-22 fighter to replace its F-4, but the U.S. Congress was strongly opposed to the plan, fearing a leak of top-secret information. Japan ended up selecting the F-35 stealth fighter in 2011 instead.

Many in the Japanese government and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party are calling for Japanese defense industry technology to be used in the next fighter jet. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Finance is demanding strict cost control heading toward the next midterm defense build-up program.

Under these circumstances, an individual close to the Defense Ministry said a focal factor in the joint development plan "will be how much control over the project the Japan government can secure."

(Japanese original by Noriaki Kinoshita, Political News Department)

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