Japan Aims to Design Missiles For Sixth Generation Jets; Partners with Italy, UK

Japan Aims to Design Missiles For Sixth Generation Jets; Partners with Italy, UK

The concept rendering of the next-generation fighter jet developed by Japan, the United Kingdom, and Italy as part of the GCAP. (Photo - Japanese Defense Ministry/British Prime Minister's Office)


Japan intends to develop a fresh missile for its forthcoming generation of fighter jets in a collaborative initiative with the United Kingdom and Italy. The goal is to achieve readiness for these missiles in time for the aircraft’s anticipated launch in 2035.

A study carried out jointly by Japan and the UK, aimed at determining suitable armament for the new fighter jets designated for Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force, indicated that an indigenous air-to-air missile would offer superior initial performance while maintaining a cost advantage over the European-developed air-to-air Meteor missile.

Global Combat Air Program (GCAP):

The United Kingdom, Japan, and Italy announced in late 2022 that they are teaming up to build a sixth-generation fighter jet, designed to rival top-tier aircraft currently in use such as the American F-35 or Chinese J-20.

In a joint statement, leaders from the three countries emphasized the necessity for a new fighter jet due to the mounting “threats and aggression” that challenge the established “rules-based, open, and free international order.”

Following the announcement, the Pentagon declared its support for the development of the new project. This is the first time Japan has engaged in defense equipment development with a nation other than the United States.

The three nations have highlighted their determination to revolve the project around interoperability with NATO and other allied nations.

All three nations are participants in the US fifth-generation F-35 stealth fighter program, which entails their operation of various F-35 versions. The new jet is not expected to affect the F-35 program.

The US also has a sixth-generation fighter jet, known as the Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program. It is designed to be the successor to the F-22 Raptor.

Japan plans to deploy the new fighter jets as successors to 90 aging F-2 fighters of the ASDF, according to the Japanese Defense Ministry, whereas about 240 Eurofighter Typhoon jets in Britain and Italy will be replaced in total.

Why its Important to Produce Their Own:

Japan producing its own missiles holds significant strategic importance for several reasons, the most important being to strengthen strategic autonomy, provide greater flexibility according to their needs, and provide an economic incentive in building jobs and advancing domestic research and innovation.

While pursuing an indigenous jet and missile program, Japan can still collaborate with its allies, like the United States, to exchange expertise, enhance interoperability, and strengthen defense cooperation in the face of common challenges.

Strict US export controls on military technology have also sometimes limited what customers of the F-35, or other hardware, can tweak to adapt them to their specific needs.

Ultimately, the pursuit of a domestic build aligns with Japan’s broader goals of ensuring national security, contributing to regional stability, and maintaining a strong position in the evolving global security landscape.

Japan May Export Them:

Historically, Japan has tight restrictions on the exportation and sale of military hardware, due to it’s naturally pacifist policy. However, Japan’s ruling parties are including provisions in their latest security policy blueprint that would allow the export of next-generation fighter jets to other countries.

Japan has consistently upheld its stance that their 1967 “Three Principles on Arms Exports”, governing the transfer of defense equipment and technology abroad, prohibits the export of weapons, except for those co-developed or produced in partnership with another nation.

However, Japan is allowed to export lethal defense equipment to nations it collaborates with on security matters under the conditions of rescue, transportation, surveillance, vigilance, or minesweeping.

Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada has indicated that the decision regarding the transfer of lethal weapons will be made on a “case-by-case basis”, as the guidelines of the three principles do not specifically address this matter.

Joshua Paulo
Joshua Paulo
Joshua Paulo serves as Atlas's Director of News, combining a Criminal Justice degree and a background in public service and International Relations. Boasting years of experience in analysis and journalism, he now spearheads a team of professionals committed to delivering unbiased reporting to provide the public and private sector with accurate and insightful information.
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