Godzilla is coming.
No, we’re not kidding. Godzilla is indeed coming to Japan.
But it’s not exactly the movie monster we all know and love, for his cool crushing of trains, cars and buildings.
It is, in fact, the nickname for the homegrown Mitsubishi F-X sixth-generation fighter jet being domestically developed at a projected cost of around 5 trillion yen (about US$48 billion).
In Japan’s case, it’s all about keeping up and staying strong in a tough neighborhood, namely Russia and China which already have cutting edge aerial assets, Interesting Engineering reported.
While a technologically advanced and innovative country, Japan has not led the development of a new fighter craft domestically for around 40 years or so. For this reason, the country is very interested in bringing in technical help from the United States and the United Kingdom.
According to a Nikkei news release “by November , the Ministry of Defense had narrowed down potential candidates to Lockheed and Boeing of the US and Britain’s BAE Systems. They were evaluated in three areas — system integration capabilities such as radar and missiles, high stealth and athletic ability, and efficient development technology.”
The international R&D program will provide the fighter with some exciting interoperability functions with allied forces.
In theory, the new fighter should be able to share data with friendly US aircraft, like its F-22s and F-35s, making joint operations streamlined.
While we aren’t sure exactly what it will look like at this point, some have pointed to the fact that it will likely be similar to, but bigger than the F-22, earning it the unofficial nickname “Godzilla.”
What is known is that the F-X will come with electronically actuated control surfaces. To maintain a low radar profile, space will be tight inside the airframe, so conventional hydraulic systems will be used sparingly, if at all.
Advanced technologies include remote drone control capabilities, a VR-style helmet-mounted display, a radar that can double as a microwave weapon to fry enemy missiles and serpentine air intakes to help further reduce its radar cross-section and heat signature.
The F-X will also come with heat shields and an integrated bonded structure that will likely be made of composite materials.
This will help reduce the overall weight of the aircraft giving the F-X a much extended operational range and give the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) the much-needed ability to be flexible with the airbases the F-X will operate from.
With regards to propulsion, one of the main companies involved in the project, IHI Corporation, has been testing a new jet engine, the XF9-1 low-bypass turbofan, since 2018.
This engine includes some interesting “exotic” materials that will help keep its weight down while simultaneously increasing the engine’s heat tolerance to as much as 3,272 degrees Fahrenheit (1,800 degrees Celsius).
Reportedly it is capable of pumping out around 16.5 tons of thrust with afterburners.
Japanese engineers have also been toying with thrust-vectoring nozzles for the XF9-1 engine which, if successful, could provide the F-X with some impressive maneuverability.
Allegedly, the Chinese J-10 and J-20 fighters also have this capability.
Other team members for the project, including Toshiba and Fujitsu, will be taking the lead in developing the F-X’s Gallium-Nitride “Active Electronically Scanning Array” (AESA) radar system.
This should be able to double as a form of a microwave defense system for the fighter mid-flight against incoming missiles.
The twin-engine fighter may also come equipped with an “Integrated Fire Control for Fighters” (IFCF) system that could allow Japanese (and possibly US) fighters to pool together their sensor and missile targeting capabilities.
Apparently, the F-X will also be able to control up to three drone-like “loyal wingmen” aircraft, or “Combat Support Unmanned Aircraft.”
Lockheed Martin is likely to provide technical support to Mitsubishi in developing the F-X’s airframe and help with system integration. For the craft to be truly stealthy, the design of the airframe, and the radar-absorbent materials used, will be critical.
The new plane will serve as a multirole fighter, able to attack targets on land, sea and in the air. It will have stealth capabilities in addition to networking functions to continue operations even if it is disturbed by electromagnetic waves.
It will probably also have the capacity for at least six internally-stowed weapons, including, but not limited to, air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground missiles and anti-ship missiles.
Japanese defense minister Taro Kono told reporters the F-X must carry more air-to-air missiles than the F-35 stealth fighter can.
“We will emphasize network functions and demand high stealth performance, Kono said. “It will carry more missiles than the F-35.”
Japan is hoping to build around 90 of the fighters initially, which will replace the venerable, but now aging F-2 planes.
A spokesperson from the Japanese Ministry of Defense told Jane’s that both the MoD and the JASDF “recognize the importance of a deep understanding” about digital engineering, and are working to integrate such capabilities with the aim to be able to “efficiently acquire and operate superior equipment.”
Ideally, the Japanese government intends to create an advanced, multi-role stealth jet that combines the best of both worlds — the airframe of the F-22 with the F-35’s sensors and electronics. That appears to be the imposing challenge.
And while that may be a costly endeavor — the Australian Strategic Policy Institute pegs it at an exorbitant US$170 million per unit — Japan’s justification for the expenditure is that it wants full control of the configuration, the next US fighters likely won’t be available for export and Japan needs a design that may not suit other countries.
Perhaps even more ambitious are the plans to have a working prototype by about 2024, with its first flight around 2028. The F-X is also hoped to be in series production by 2031, with it finally entering service by the 2035 deadline.
Sources: Interesting Engineering, Nikkei Asia, Eurasian Times, Jane’s, Australian Strategic Policy Institute