You could tell two quite different stories about the Japanese Mitsubishi F-2 fighter, which was originally known as the FS-X, explains Jon Lake. The first account would describe a fundamentally unwise attempt to produce an F-16 derivative that ended up with each aircraft costing four times as much as a Block 50 F-16 from Lockheed Martin, while only offering a marginal improvement in performance in some areas.
The alternative, altogether more positive narrative, tells of an ambitious and ultimately successful project to produce an aircraft that would meet a difficult local requirement. An aircraft that was a peerless homeland defense interceptor and a deadly ship-killer, with a better turn rate, a longer range and a bigger ‘punch’ than any F-16 service variant.
Originally referred to as the F-16 Mod or by the Mitsubishi designation SX-3 — the aircraft was to be based on the Block 40 F-16C, but incorporating a 25 per cent larger wing, based on that designed for the F-16 Agile Falcon, as well as a modest 17-in fuselage stretch to provide increased internal fuel capacity. The new Japanese-designed wing incorporated radar absorbent material on the leading edge and featured increased span (66.9 in/1.7m wider) and root chord, with slightly less leading edge sweep and co-cured composite construction to give greater strength while avoiding any weight increase. The extra span allowed the aircraft to be fitted with two additional weapons stations compared to the F-16.
Today, three frontline squadrons of F-2s serve with the Air Defense Command (Koku Sotai). These are based at Misawa and Tsuiki, and are equipped primarily with single-seat F-2As, augmented by a handful of two-seat F-2Bs and Kawasaki T-4 trainers. There is also a training squadron at Matsushima, solely equipped with F-2Bs. These units draw on a fleet of 92 F-2s on JASDF charge, including 61 F-2As and 21 F-2Bs and the aircraft are expected to serve until 2032 on current plans.
To read the full story of the F-2 and Jon Lake’s fascinating insight, see our March issue, on sale now.