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Japan eyes developing next fighter jets from FY 2020

This photo taken in 2015 shows an F-2 fighter jet of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan is considering launching development in fiscal 2020 of fighter jets to succeed the Air Self-Defense Force's F-2s, which are expected to be retired in the 2030s, governmental sources said Wednesday.

The Defense Ministry had intended to earmark starting costs for the development in the budget for the year from April 2021. Lawmakers said, however, that might be too late and the ministry is set to move up the schedule by a year, according to the sources.

The ministry will specify the amount before the Cabinet endorses a fiscal 2020 draft budget by the end of this year.

Japan has been considering co-developing the future fighters with U.S. or British companies, the sources said, noting U.S. defense giant Lockheed Martin Corp. may be the top option for a partner.

A "hybrid model" of the U.S. military's stealth F-22 and F-35 fighter jets, both of which Lockheed Martin was engaged in developing, is thought to be a possibility.

But there is concern in the United States about possible leakage of state-of-the-art technologies, making joint projects difficult, the sources said.

Under its latest Medium Term Defense Program covering the five-year period from April, the ministry has said regarding the F-2 successor fighters that it will "launch a Japan-led development project at an early timing with the possibility of international collaboration in sight."

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