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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Japan Unveils New Joint-Venture Fighter

NAGOYA, Japan -- Japan unveiled the prototype of its new fighter aircraft Thursday, the product of a $3.3 billion seven-year joint project with the United States that was marred by delays and high costs.

Officials of both governments, as well as executives of main contractor Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Lockheed Fort Worth Company, its U.S. partner, attended a rollout ceremony for the FSX fighter at Mitsubishi's plant in Nagoya, central Japan.

"The aircraft we see in front of us is a sign that the United States and Japan can overcome challenges brought on in such a sophisticated undertaking," said Rust Deming, minister-counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.

The prototype will make its maiden flight by August, and production will begin next year. Priests of the animistic Shinto religion purified and blessed the red-and-white aircraft in a long ceremony invoking six Japanese gods.

Japan's air force, the sole user of the warplanes, has not decided how many it wants, because the government is conducting a review of basic defense policy.

Lockheed Fort Worth was responsible for 40 percent of the development workload and wants to see about 130 of the planes produced. Lockheed expects it would be given a 40 percent share of the production.

The project started in 1988 after the United States demanded a share of Japan's plan to develop a next-generation fighter. Japan had originally wanted to go it alone to ensure the survival of aviation technology in its defense industry.

Industry sources said the project suffered from a two-year delay and a doubling of development costs, which now stand at $3.3 billion, funded entirely by Japan.

The delay came in mid-1988 when the administration of then-president George Bush in the United States halted work on the project to ensure that Japanese firms did not acquire too much sensitive U.S. defense technology. The primary combat role initially envisaged for the FSX -- to attack an invading Soviet air armada -- has disappeared with the Cold War.

Based on the Lockheed (originally General Dynamics) F-16 Fighting Falcon, the FSX was designed to incorporate the latest Japanese avionics and weapons technology.

Compared with F-16s in U.S. Air Force service, the FSX has 25 percent more wing surface, a bigger engine and a longer fuselage.