Japan announced Friday that it has chosen Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to lead a production project for a new stealth fighter, which Tokyo wants to enter service by the middle of the next decade.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Defense said, “We have awarded the main contract to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.” The cost of the new combat project is expected to reach nearly $ 40 billion.
The award decision was expected, as the company is the only manufacturer of combat aircraft in Japan, and no other companies compete for the contract. It is likely that suppliers and other partners will be identified by the end of the year.
American companies have expressed interest in joining the project, including Lockheed Martin, which manufactures the F-35 stealth fighter, and Boeing, which manufactures the F-18 Super Hornet. British firms include BAE Systems and jet engine maker Rolls-Royce.
The Japanese Air Force operates about 200 F-15s built by Boeing and is currently replacing swarms of aging F-4 fighters with F-35 fighters.
The new plane will replace the F-2, which is derived from the F-16 Fighting Falcon that the Japanese company jointly developed with Lockheed Martin nearly two decades ago.