Japan’s Flying Samurai Katana – Viper Zero

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The Japanese Air Self-Defense Force was alerted by the presence of two Russian Sukhoi Su-27 fighters on February 7, 2013. After the encounter, Russia denied the allegations and claimed that they were merely conducting routine flights near the Kuril Islands. However, they failed to realize just how capable the Japanese F-2s were.

FS-X Program

The Mitsubishi F-2 fighter concept was envisioned as being a multirole aircraft intended to replace the aging fleet of Japanese Mitsubishi F-1s. It was initially developed under the FS-X Program, but the United States government persuaded Japan to abandon its plans to pursue a bilateral joint venture – one based on American-made military equipment. 

With this new agreement, Japan selected the Lockheed F-16C Fighting Falcon as the basis for its next fighter. Mitsubishi emerged as the prime contractor for the project, with the US supplying and transferring needed technologies to Japan. 60% of the total cost would be covered by Japan, while the US would cover the rest.


F-2s are eerily similar to their American counterpart even after modifications. Its tails, wings, and nose were larger and could hold additional weapon stations. The single-seat fighter houses the GE F119 turbofan capable of putting out 17,000 lbf dry, or 29,500 lbf with afterburners. In addition, the fuselage was stretched by 17 inches, allowing it to be fitted with a three-piece framed cockpit with a stronger windshield.

The enhanced avionics were installed in its forward section and included an integrated electronic warfare system. Meanwhile, its longer and wider nose accommodates the J/APG-1/J/APG-2 AESA radar, making it the first military plane in the world to feature an EASA radar before the F-22. To minimize its weight, the engineers used state-of-the-art graphite epoxy composite and co-cured technology for its wings, skins, spars, and ribs.

Viper Zero

After many modifications and teething problems, it was clear that the F-2 was a respectable fighter capable of both air-to-air and air-to-surface roles. Viper Zeros are capable of carrying wingtip-mounted AIM-9 Sidewinders and Mitsubishi AAM-3 missiles while still having eleven hardpoints available for other ordnance such as the ASM-2.

Still, its hefty price tag became too hard to swallow at times. A single F-2 costs about the same as four Block 50/52 F-16Cs – not including development costs. The program would also suffer significant delays due to cost escalation and structural problems regarding wind cracking and flutter. Nevertheless, four prototypes were completed, including a pair of two-seaters (F-2B) which aimed to replace the Mitsubishi T-2s in training.

Tendency To Crash

F-2s have been involved in several accidents and crashes since their inception. In 2007, an F-2B crashed during takeoff and caught fire while undergoing test flights. The incident was later attributed to improper wiring.

The 2011 tsunami further damaged around eighteen models of the F-2, five of which were deemed beyond repair. It took Japan around five years to fix the damaged models. 

F-2s were still involved in several minor crashes during training flights decades after their introduction into service. The latest crash happened in April 2021, when an F-2A and F-2B collided over the Yamaguchi Prefecture. 

Defending Japan

The fighter had its first taste of real action in 2013 when two Russian Su-27s breached Japanese airspace twice. Russia first crossed the territory near Hokkaido and overflew into the Sea of Japan. Four F-2s were deployed as a response to confirm the sighting. As expected, Russia denied the allegations even after Japan released a photo of one of the two Su-27s flying over Japanese territory.

A few months later, two Russian Tu-142 maritime patrol aircraft approached the island of Kyushu for less than two minutes. Once again, F-2s were dispatched to fulfill their purpose. In just three quarters that year, Japan needed to scramble their jets 369 times to warn Russian planes.