Japan’s new ATD-X technology demonstrator plays important strategic role


I found this Japanese television feature package that gives a good overview of the country’s ATD-X programme, which aims to produce a technology demonstrator of a fifth generation stealth fighter.

Last week, I was in Tokyo and met with Japanese ministry of defence officials who are involved in the ATD-X programme.

I asked them why Japan is embarking on development of a fifth generation stealth fighter?

The answer I got was two-fold. One of the officials told me the ATD-X programme is a direct response to the USA’s refusal to allow Japan to purchase the F-22 Raptor. Another told me that Japan wants to develop fifth generation fighter technology so it can stay ahead of China.

Japan is very concerned about China’s growing fleet of advanced fighters such as the Sukhoi Su-30 and Sukhoi Su-27. China is also working on development of its own fifth generation fighter and there is the possibility that Russia’s PAK-FA fifth generation fighter, currently in development, could end up in Chinese hands one day.

Even though Japan is working on a technology demonstrator, it is unlikely to become a new aircraft programme due to the high costs involved. This is the impression I got in Japan and its also one of the points raised in this TV package.

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5 Responses to Japan’s new ATD-X technology demonstrator plays important strategic role

  1. Dave 20 May, 2010 at 4:59 pm #

    The question one must ask is, why does an ostensibly pacifist nation need a stealth aircraft that is optimized for air dominance like the Raptor? It’s not really designed for air defense so much as it is designed to invade someone else’s airspace and then kick the living bejesus out of their air defenses and fighter aircraft. The same goes for the F-35- which is even more focused on the strike mission. The point I’m trying to make is that these two aircraft that the Japanese so covet are inherently offensive weapons systems- which leads one to ask why they need such machines? One could argue that a non-stealthy AESA and IRST equipped high performance fighter such as the Eurofighter or an advanced F-15 variant might be more suitable if their goal was purely to field a defensive platform.

    Perhaps a new advanced 4.5th generation would fit their requirements better rather than the newest shiniest toy in the USAF inventory?

    That being said, designing the airframe is one thing, building a complete 5th generation fighter is another. Do they have (retain- the Japanese had developed jet fighter engines in 1945) the ability to design and build the advanced engines and integrated avionics they would need? What about the ability to integrate those disparate systems into a useful aircraft? Further, the thrust vectoring nozzles on this thing don’t look particularly stealthy. Most importantly, as you point out, cost will be a huge issue.

    If they’re really set on a 5th generation plane the F-35 will probably have to suffice. It’s very unlikely, even if the Obey Amendment is overturned, that the F-22 will ever be exported. Also given the amount of maintenance that aircraft requires, and the cost of operating it, it’s just as well. Given that the stealth and other features of the F-35 are easier and less costly to maintain, it’s probably a better fit.

  2. Krit 7 July, 2010 at 1:36 am #

    I seriously think that it is an important issue even if it is just for defense. Sometimes having ability in itself is a defense so some nut job won’t pull up a force on you when they know that you are capable too. Also, looking at Honda jet, I believe Japanese can product such efficient and powerful engine to build a very agile fighter jet. However, it is true that the program will cost a lot. However, I believe that the research price tag will be less than half of what US needs. But then, Japanese GDP is questionable to pull off that kind of funding. Whatever happens, I hope they really produce a real nice piece of weapon to show the world. I really do!

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