Troubled Partnership

An Assessment of U.S.-Japan Collaboration on the FS-X Fighter

by Mark A. Lorell

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The United States has generally tried to discourage its allies from developing their own major weapons systems, to promote equipment standardization with U.S. forces, and tie allied security policies more firmly to U.S. interests. Japan's FS-X fighter is perhaps the most prominent example of this policy. Japan had originally intended to design and build an indigenous fighter; the Pentagon urged Japan to buy an existing U.S. fighter. After difficult negotiations, the two sides eventually agreed to lightly modify the U.S. F-16 jointly to meet Japan's special needs. But as a result of political controversies over technology transfer and trade, the U.S. side focused increasingly on the economic aspects of the program. Under cover of these controversies, the Japanese have been able to move the FS-X design and technology applications ever farther away from the F-16 toward a much more nearly indigenous creation. In the end, the FS-X program has failed to meet many of the original U.S. expectations, and Japan has reaped an unexpected reward — experience in developing a world-class fighter aircraft. This book summarizes and assesses the program.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Program History: Protracted Disputes and Mixed Outcomes

  • Chapter Two

    What Went Wrong?

  • Chapter Three

    Next Steps

  • Chapter Four

    Lessons for Future Collaboration

  • References

Research conducted by

This report emerged from a RAND research project conducted in the early 1990s on collaboration with Asian allies on military aircraft research and development (R&D). The Resource Management and System Acquisition Program of RAND's Project AIR FORCE initiated this research, which was sponsored by the United States Air Force.

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