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‘Sayonara Phantom’ – Japan retired its last F-4EJ supersonic fighter jets

TOKYO, (BM) – Japan’s Air Force officially retired its last Phantom fighter jets on November 20 with a live broadcast ceremony. The McDonnell F-4 flew for the Japanese for almost half a century – now the two-seater is passing the baton on to the F-35, learned BulgarianMilitary.com citing the German weboage FlugRevue.

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Japan’s air self-defense forces had preserved one last oasis for their veteran fighters: squadron after squadron said goodbye to the legendary Phantom in the past few years, the last time the reconnaissance squadron 501 said goodbye to its “Photo Phantoms” in the spring. Only the 301 Hikotai from Hyakuri still held on to their 24 F-4EJ and continued to perform their air sovereignty tasks with the twin-engine battle horses.

But now it is time for the pilots of the 301 Hikotai to say goodbye to the phantom jets. In order to celebrate this final chord of a 48-year-old era in the shadow of Corona, the squadron had already given two of their F-4EJs special paintwork a few weeks ago and sent them on a farewell tour to bases across the country. With the ceremony on the airbase, which was shown live on the Internet, and which was attended by current squadron members as well as many alumni and high-ranking military representatives, the circle was now closed on Friday: The F-4EJ was ceremoniously sent into retirement.

Officially, the time of the phantom in Japan’s air self-defense forces is over. At the Gifu base, however, the F-4EJ from the flight test center located there should continue to fly until the end of March 2021. Meanwhile, the 301 Hikotai will switch to its future operational pattern – and with the switch to the Lockheed Martin F-35A, it will skip several generations of fighters. With the end of the phantom era, the 301 Hikotai is also saying goodbye to Hyakuri Air Base: the squadron will soon be pitching tents at Misawa Air Base in the north of the main island of Honshu.

Japan will produce F-35s and become a center for next-gen fighter jets

The Japanese Ministry of Defense announced on August 4 that the responsibility for the construction of the next-generation fighter, currently known as the F-X, will be taken by a single company, which will be a “single prime” contractor. Other news from recent days is the decision to build 105 F-35A and B for Japan at the Nagoya assembly plant. The same service from which Tokyo gave up two years ago in this respect.

The MHI’s FACO [Final Assembly and Check-Out] line located in Nagoya is a plant created in cooperation with MHI and the F-35 manufacturer – Lockheed Martin. Interestingly, in 2018, after the first aircraft were assembled there, it was decided that it would be more profitable to import ready-made machines from the United States, and in Japan to focus on their servicing, modernization, inspection and maintenance.

Now, apparently, important improvements have been made to the Japanese FACO, as the Japanese say that assembling the machines will not be more expensive now, but cheaper than importing from the USA. This means taking the pressure off the troubled Lockheed Martin production lines in Fort Worth and possibly developing new methods to reduce aircraft construction costs and / or time.

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It is also possible that Japan is mainly not about money, but about maximizing the independence of the F-35 acquisition program, and thus increasing the efficiency of its production and the speed of its implementation into service. In the current geopolitical situation in the Far East, it would not be surprising.

Mitsubishi was chosen to make the next generation Japanese fighter jet

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has been designated as the prime contractor for the Japanese F-X’s next-generation fighter program, the Japanese Defense Ministry said, as we reported on October 31 citing the Polish news agency Defence24. A foreign partner should be announced soon.

This information is not a big surprise. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries [MHI] is the most experienced and, in fact, the only supersonic fighter aircraft builder in Japan, and manufactured the Japanese Mitsubishi F-1 combat trainer and currently used Mitsubishi F-2 based on the F-16C. The company also runs the Japanese F-35 final assembly line.

At the same time, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi announced that Japan would now be looking for an “overseas” partner to provide some technical solutions, in particular pointing to stealth technology. This partner is to be selected by the end of this year and it can be speculated that, due to the current experiences of individual companies in this regard, Lockheed Martin will be chosen as the winner.

The first funds for research and development should soon be transferred to MHI. For 2021, the Japanese Ministry of Defense is forecasting $ 555.8 million plus $ 113.6 million for armament work for the new machine. Considering the funds allocated to similar work in the Tempest or FCAS / SKAF programs, these are large funds, provided, of course, that they are approved by the parliament.

Despite the high technical advancement and strong economy in the field of building a modern combat aircraft, the Japanese industry will have a lot to catch up on and will have to develop a modern engine (here the work will be continued by IHI Corporation), AESA-class radar and develop stealth technologies.

However, some work has already been carried out and some experience has been gained. We are talking about the ATD-X demonstrator, which in the years 2016-2018 performed a series of air tests, igniting the imagination of commentators and being exaggeratedly referred to as the prototype of the “Mitsubishi F-3” fighter. After revealing the silhouette of the planned fighter this year and changing its concept, it turned out that it will look completely different and that it will not be “something between the F-35 and F-22”, but rather an airplane resembling the more forgotten Northrop YF demonstrator 23, larger than the Raptor and with a huge range.

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Currently, the Japanese fighter’s program assumes the following cut-off dates: airframe and engine design work should start by the end of March, construction of the first prototype is to begin in 2024, and in 2028, its flight tests are to begin. So they will start in parallel with the launch of the Korean Boramae fighter. Meanwhile, the entry to the line of the Japanese aircraft should take place in 2035.

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