On January 28th Japan displayed, for the first time, its X-2 stealth fighter. This prototype aircraft is to make its first flight by the end of February so there was no point in trying to keep it hidden from public view anymore. Japan admits that it will take about a decade to get the X-2 into service, assuming all the technical and fiscal obstacles can be overcome. China and Russia are also trying to develop similar aircraft while the U.S. has already done so, several times, since the 1980s (when the F-117 appeared).
The X-2 is actually a “demonstrator” aircraft for testing stealth concepts. The stealth tech that works would then be incorporated into a new Japanese designed fighter. This is needed to replace the locally built F-2s by the end of the 2020s. This F-2 replacement would be called the F-3 (or ATD-X). While Japan has already ordered some American F-35s it is possible Japan might go ahead with both the F-35 and F-3, depending on how dangerous their neighborhood gets.
In 2011 Japan decided to purchase 42 American F-35 fighters to replace its 110 elderly F-4Js. The F-35A is a 31 ton, single engine fighter that is 15.7 meters (51.4 feet) long and with a 10.7 meter (35 foot) wingspan. The F-35A can carry 8.1 tons of weapons in addition to an internal 20mm four-barrel autocannon. Japan will pay about $127 million for each F-35, which includes training, maintenance equipment, and a supply of spare parts. The Japanese will assemble the F-35 in Japan as the AX-1 and some of the components will be made in Japan. Despite the AX-1 deal Japan is still exploring a locally
Japan originally wanted to buy the American F-22 but was not allowed to. In 2010, wary of the continuing delays (and rising costs) of the F-35 program, Japan seriously considered buying another 50 locally made F-2s. This is a Japanese F-16 variant with a 25 percent larger wing area and better electronics. The 22 ton F-2 carries nearly nine tons of bombs. This plane is twice as expensive (at $110 million each) as the F-16, part of that is due to the better electronics (like an AESA radar), but mostly this is due to higher production costs in Japan. The F-2 has been in service since 2000 and 98 have been built so far.
Japan is concerned with the growing belligerence of China and North Korea, plus a simmering territorial dispute with Russia. More warplanes, and the modern ones at that are needed, just in case. The rapid Chinese development of its new stealth fighter, the J-20, also alarmed the Japanese. The delays in the F-35 program are seen as less critical now. South Korea is now more likely to buy the F-35, if only to keep up with their ancient rival Japan.