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​ATD-X to spur Japan’s advanced fighter research

The Mitsubishi ATD-X fighter technology demonstrator could conduct its maiden flight in February, following a media rollout in Japan on 29 January.

The rollout offered reporters unprecdented access to the aircraft, unofficially named ‘ShinShin’ which was developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Nagoya.

The Y39.2 billion ($27 million) ATD-X, which has been delayed for several years, will conduct a test campaign explore advanced “fifth generation” fighter technologies, namely stealth, thrust vectoring, advanced sensors, and datalinks.

As reported previously by Flightglobal, the aircraft small by fighter standards with a length of 14.2m (46.5ft) and a wingspan of 9.1m.

It is powered by two IHI XF5-1 low-bypass engines. A video shared with journalists shows that the engines are equipped with afterburners that have been ground tested. Mitsubishi previously had automatic engine restart issues with the engine control software, but apparently these have been resolved. The engine inlets have stealth coatings.

The aircraft will not be armed and is likely to be retired after two to three years in service. The technology tests could eventually make their way into an indigenous fighter, the F-3, that would replace Japan’s fleet of Mitsubishi F-2s and F-15Js in the 2030s.

The ATD-X is calibrated to address Tokyo’s concerns that it lacks the know-how to develop advanced fighters indigenously.

For years, Japan tried unsuccessfully to obtain the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, but Washington’s concerns about leaks prevented this aircraft from being exported. Tokyo eventually ordered 42 F-35s in 2011, which are to be built under licence by Mitsubishi. It is not clear, however, how much access to sensitive technologies this acquisition will provide.

Meanwhile, Tokyo is concerned by aircraft developments in regional rivals. China is making steady progress with its Chengdu J-20 fighter, with some Chinese blog sites reporting that this large aircraft, which has some stealth features, has entered low rate initial production. At the Dubai Air Show in November 2015, Avic also hosted a presentation about another advanced Chinese jet, the FC-31, apparently a follow-on aircraft of the J-31.

Closer to home, South Korea is committed to developing the KFX fighter in cooperation with Indonesia.

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