March 9 (UPI) -- Japan's Air Self-Defense Force will partner with U.S. firms to build its next-generation fighter plane.
A proposal to enlist British companies, which would have given Japan the freedom to update the planes at will, was ultimately rejected in favor of the increasing security ties between Japan and the United States, according to Japanese officials.
The decision was expected, and will officially be announced later this year. It likely will offer U.S. companies control of design, while Japan will assume the cost of research and development.
Japan seeks a replacement for its aging F-2 aircraft, currently built by Mitsubishi, to enter service sometime in the 2030s. It envisions a long-range fighter plane with stealth characteristics and usable for patrolling the country's vast maritime sovereignty.
Among plausible partners for the project, expected to cost tens of billions of dollars, the United States has the most experience in building fighter planes with those capabilities, and Japan is unlikely to export the plane to any country the United States regards as an enemy.
U.S. contractors Lockheed Martin and Boeing have been named as possible partners, although Japan has made it clear that it will not name a single partner.
A totally new aircraft is expected, unlike a hybrid of the F-22 and F-35 as proposed by Lockheed Martin. It is unclear if all collaboration with British companies, currently developing a next-generation fighter plane of their own, the Tempest, has been rejected. Some mutual development of systems and electronics components between Japan and Britain remains a possibility, officials say.