On the 30th October, the Japanese Defense Minister announced that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries would be the prime contactor to develop the country’s next-generation F-X stealth fighter, intended for delivery in the 2030s. This announcement is not unexpected, with previous indications being that the Japanese Ministry of Defense was targeting an indigenously developed platform. Harry Boneham, Associate Analyst at GlobalData, comments, “despite the designation of Mhi as prime contractor, there is still an opportunity for foreign co-operation of some parts including avionics and engines. Furthermore, the victory of President-elect Biden may place US firms in pole position in the contest to secure these contracts within the F-X programme. Reporting regarding a phone call between President-elect Biden and Prime Minister Suga suggests a tightening of US-Japanese relations.”

Prime Minister Suga told reporters following the call the President-elect Biden had clarified that Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation, which states the US must defend Japanese territory from attack,  would apply to the Senkaku Islands which are claimed by China. “President-elect Biden has taken the first step towards reaffirming Japan as a key regional ally, and China as the primary regional adversary,” Boneham continues. “President Trump has previously caused consternation, being critical of the structure and costs of the U.S.-Japan mutual defense relationship.”

“Securing involvement in the F-X program will be a lucrative achievement for the eventual foreign firms selected, with GlobalData estimating that $8.45bn will be allocated to the program between 2020-30. Whilst the bulk of this is likely to go to Japanese firms, there is an opportunity for foreign partners to secure valuable contracts. Besides the US, the UK is the other obvious choice for partnership, with its Tempest program continuing to advance and open to adding partners to reduce costs. However, in the context of tightening US-Japanese relations in a Biden administration, US firms appear the more likely choice, not least because the F-X is intended to fly alongside and network with Lockheed Martin’s F-35.”