The Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) reportedly grounded its Mitsubishi F-2 multirole fighter jets after a crack was found in the wing during the post-flight inspection of one aircraft on September 8, 2020. The grounding lasted a month, during which the whole fleet was thoroughly inspected for further cracks.

The Japanese media Smart-Flash broke the news, quoting a defense source. “The mechanic found a crack about the size of a hair in the wings of the F-2B that had finished flying at Matsushima Base,” the source said. “The following day, the F-2A was suspended nationwide.”

The Mitsubishi Heavy Industries F-2 is an indigenous multirole fighter jet operated by the Japan Air Self-Defense Force. The wing is made of a carbon-based composite material. Based on the F-16 fighter jet, it was jointly developed by Japan and the United States. The F-2B is the twin-seat variant of the aircraft used for training, while the F-2A is the fighter version. 

The grounding and inspection were kept secret, as the F-2A fleet is in charge of protecting the sovereignty of Japan’s airspace. In 2019, the JASDF carried out 947 interceptions of foreign aircraft, mainly Chinese and Russian. While that number slightly decreased compared to the previous year, it was the third-highest on record.

The F-2 fleet returned to operations on October 1, 2020. The next day, they were scrambled to intercept a Russian Mi-8 helicopter.

Following reports of a foreign submarine cruising near the Satsunan Islands, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force deployed two warships, including a helicopter carrier transporting an array of helicopters dedicated to anti-submarine warfare. A Kawasaki P-1 maritime patrol aircraft was also deployed in the region. Such a large deployment of force by Japan is relatively unseen.

Japan to develop a sixth-generation fighter jet

Japan is actively looking for a replacement for the F-2 fighter jet, but it has been an extremely long process. After the United States Congress refused to sell the F-22 Raptor despite strong interest from Japan, the country decided to develop its own aircraft, known as the X-2 Shinshin. 

After years of stalling, the project to develop a fifth-generation fighter jet was eventually dropped. Japan ordered 63 Lockheed Martin F-35A fighter jets and 42 F-35B, the short takeoff and landing variant, concomitantly with the commissioning of two helicopter carriers of the Izumo-class.

However, the idea to design a new aircraft did not disappear, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries was selected by Japan as the prime contractor to develop a sixth-generation fighter jet, the F-X.

The F-X will be a twin-engine stealth fighter jet which will include the research done on the X-2. Its main mission will be air superiority, safekeeping the sovereignty of the Japanese airspace in an increasingly contested environment.

The Japanese Defense Ministry is about to formalize Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) as the prime contractor of the future F-X fighter jet.