In the 1980s, it was time to think about a replacement for the Mitsubishi F-1. The aircraft had to be capable of flying at Mach 2, and was the subject of a program called FS-X. In October 1987, the Japanese government decided to take the F-16C as a basis, and signed a contract with Mitsubishi. This firm joined forces with General Dynamics. The contract provided for a 60% share for Mitsubishi and 40% for General Dynamics, whose aeronautics division was bought by Lockheed Martin in 1993. However, the technology transfer was bitterly debated by the US Congress. In December 1995, the aircraft was officially named F-2.
The aircraft took the silhouette of the F-16, but with a wing and ailerons enlarged by 25%, a fuselage lengthened by 40 cm, with a large use of composite materials (which allows both the lightening of the airframe and the absorption of radar waves) and a widened nose and air intake. The most visible difference is in the canopy, which includes a windscreen contrary to the F-16. The CDVEs were designed by both Japan Aviation Electronics and Honeywell. The rest of the avionics are Japanese, starting with the MEC radar, designed by Mitsubishi and multi-mode active electronic scanning. It also features a Shimadzu HUD, Yokogawa multifunction displays, gyrolaser control unit and countermeasures. It is also equipped with a FLIR J/AAQ-2.
The YF-2A prototype took off on October 7, 1995. It was followed by the YF-2B, a two-seater, which made its maiden flight on April 2, 1996. 4 prototypes were built for flight tests and 2 for static tests. The first pre-production F-2 was handed over to the JASDF on March 22, 1996, and production started in September 1996. This one is shared between Lockheed-Martin, Fuji, Kasawaki and Mitsubishi which is in charge of the final assembly.
The first 19 aircraft (including 5 two-seaters) entered service in 2000 with the 3 Hikotai Squadron in Misawa, replacing the F-1 mainly in the anti-ship role. 141 were planned, but orders were reduced to 94 aircraft, plus the 4 prototypes. There are 2 versions, the single-seat F-2A and the two-seat F-2B.
In June 2007, it was deployed for the first time abroad, for a joint exercise between Americans and Japanese at Andersen AFB, located in Guam. It dropped live bombs on this occasion.
Its actual cost has never been disclosed, but some estimates put it at $70 million, excluding R&D. Including R&D, the unit price would be four times higher than that of the F-16 Block 50/52, for not much better performance. It is therefore contested by the Parliament. Moreover, the Japanese Constitution strictly prohibits its export.
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