Japanese, U.S. Resolve Dispute Over Division of Labor on FSX Jet

Times Staff Writer

Japanese and U.S. defense contractors reportedly have resolved a protracted dispute over how to share technology and divide the manufacturing workload in developing Japan’s next-generation fighter jet, the FSX.

In a breakthrough for the U.S. side, Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has agreed to allow General Dynamics to construct wing assemblies for two of six prototypes of the fighter, local news reports and informed sources said Thursday.

Disagreement over whether General Dynamics, based in St. Louis, would be allowed to learn Mitsubishi’s technology by manufacturing the wings, to be made of sophisticated composite materials, had delayed implementation of an accord signed between the two governments Nov. 29.

The U.S. side had argued that for the controversial joint development project to result in a true two-way flow of technology, General Dynamics would have to gain some experience in actually producing the wings, which are designed without the metal rivets used in conventional air-frame construction.


Based on the F-16

The Japanese, however, countered that moving part of the wing production to the General Dynamics plant in Ft. Worth would slow down the production schedule and unnecessarily drive up costs, which will be borne entirely by the Japanese Defense Agency.

The FSX will be based on General Dynamics’ F-16 fighter, with modifications for improved performance. The agreement involves wholesale transfer of the U.S. company’s F-16 technology to Mitsubishi and, in return, the transfer of any new technology in the project back to General Dynamics.

Since its inception, the FSX project has been a focal point for “technology friction” between the two countries. Mitsubishi, the prime contractor for the $1.3-billion development project, originally insisted that it be allowed to design and build the new fighter from scratch, without using any U.S. know-how.

Mitsubishi, Japan’s largest defense contractor and maker of the World War II Zero fighter, is pushing aggressively into the aerospace industry, one of the few remaining technological frontiers in which Japan still lags far behind the United States, analysts say.

But U.S. officials applied political pressure on the Japanese government, urging it to buy American-made fighters to help offset Japan’s bilateral trade surplus. The two sides compromised, agreeing to use the F-16 as a basis for the new design and to divide research and development between U.S. and Japanese contractors, with Mitsubishi taking the lead role.

A total of 130 FSX planes is to be built over the next 12 years at an estimated cost of $6 billion to $7 billion. The agreement reportedly reached by Mitsubishi and General Dynamics this week, but not yet formally announced as of late Thursday, covers only the first six prototype aircraft.

Under the agreement, Mitsubishi and its subcontractors will handle 60% of the work and General Dynamics and its subcontractors the remaining 40%, according to sources. The U.S. side will be responsible for the engines, parts of the fuselage, control surfaces and systems integration, while the Japanese side will provide such key technology as phased-array radar and flight computers and will design the aircraft.

General Dynamics officials in Tokyo were not available for comment Thursday. But a veteran Western analyst characterized the agreement on wing production as a breakthrough that resolved the last outstanding American complaint over the FSX project.

“For years, America has supported the Japanese aircraft industry. But now that it has matured and has things to offer, there was a feeling that the Japanese owed a return favor,” said the analyst, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “In their heads they said yes, but their hearts followed reluctantly.”