The F-2 was originally known as the FSX
), and was commissioned by the Japanese Defense Agency
in 1982 to replace the older Mitsubishi F-1
fighter in Air Self Defense Force
use. It went on to become one of the major rift
s in international relations
and the United States
during the Cold War
The Japanese Diet weighed two options in resupplying the SDF: either designing and producing an aircraft at home, or importing aircraft from the United States. By 1985, they had made a tentative decision to start a production line in Japan, in hopes of building a domestic aerospace industry as had been done before in Germany and France.
When American officials in the Pentagon and the U.S. embassy in Tokyo learned of the FSX plan, they began lobbying the Japanese government to nix the entire idea of building fighter jets in Japan, and instead purchase the F-16 Fighting Falcon. At a unit cost of $15 million, the F-16 would be far cheaper than an entire production program, at least as far as the SDF's needs were concerned (they wanted a fleet of 150). The US was not only concerned about keeping the American defense industry alive: they were equally concerned that Japan would start exporting the FSX to potential enemies, as Dassault of France had done before. These fears were only deepened in 1987, when Toshiba was found to have illegally exported machine tools for manufacturing submarines in the Soviet Union.
That year, Caspar Weinberger traveled to Tokyo and proposed codevelopment, where Japanese and American engineers would build an aircraft from an American technological base. Prime Minister Nakasone Yasuhiro approved the plan, and both sides agreed that the FSX would be a redevelopment of existing F-16 technology. Mitsubishi was given the go-ahead to purchase an F-16 production license from General Dynamics in 1988.
Before production could begin, the agreement had to pass theough the United States Senate, and opposition was intense. The Department of Commerce was terrified that Japan would use the agreement to procure technology for its own aircraft industry, and eventually muscle out American companies like Boeing and Lockheed. Senator Jeff Bingaman was Commerce's major spokesman in the debates, but it was ultimately Senator Jesse Helms who stopped the FSX dead in its tracks by refusing to approve James Baker as Secretary of State until all relevant agencies were given an opportunity to review the deal.
The Department of Labor slammed the FSX proposal, as did the United States Trade Representative, both for obvious reasons. Commerce and Labor demanded that no less than forty percent of FSX production be performed by American companies in the United States. The National Security Council further hampered the deal by demanding that the sensitive flight control and weapons targeting software not be released to the Japanese.
When Japan's ambassador met with George Bush, Baker, and Dick Cheney in 1989, he was given a radically different deal from what Weinberger had struck in Tokyo two years before. The Japanese considered the new deal to be an insult: after all, the FSX was their aircraft, and now it seemed as if the United States was muscling its way into the production process. Some politicians, most notably Ishihara Shintaro, believed that the new American demands were merely a way of prolonging Japan's subordinate defense relationship with the United States. Despite this, the Diet was forced to accept America's demands.
On May 16, 1989, the Senate approved the new conditions, and the FSX program was officially given the green light by both sides. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries rolled out the fighter as the F-2. Japan's aerospace industry is still not even remotely competitive with America's, and since the FSX debate, Japan has not manufactured a single civil aircraft (although they do build components for Boeing and Bombardier airliners... the NAMC YS-11 doesn't count, because the Japanese stopped building it in the 1970's).