Japan is unlikely to get the funding required to construct a stealth fighter demonstrator in 2008, with industry sources expecting the finance ministry to release only enough money to continue design and technology studies.

The ATD-X project has been in the works for several years, and the defence ministry's Technical Research and Development Institute received the go-ahead last year to build and fly a small demonstrator. The project appeared to take on added urgency after the USA refused to provide information on the Lockheed Martin F-22 for Japan's upcoming F-X fighter competition.

But money is tight, with the defence ministry also keen to accelerate upgrades to its Mitsubishi Heavy Industries/Boeing F-15s, and Tokyo's procurement budget also continuing to fall. The ATD-X project received only ¥7 billion ($43 million) of the ¥49.9 billion that the TRDI had requested last year, and industry sources say this year is also likely to be disappointing.

"Given the gloomy economic prognosis for the coming years, budgets are likely to shrink even further. As a result, the MoD will most likely have to prioritise the F-15 upgrades over the ATD-X programme," says a Tokyo-based industry source.

MHI, which has licence-produced most of Japan's fighters, is the lead contractor for the new programme. The ATD-X is similar in size to the Saab Gripen, and will be powered by two Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries XF5 afterburning, thrust-vectoring engines derived from the XF7 turbofan powering Japan's Kawasaki Heavy Industries XP-1 maritime patrol aircraft.

Source: Flight International