Tokyo has reaffirmed its plan for a 2014 first flight of its experimental Mitsubishi ATD-X Shinshin stealth demonstrator, while it also considers three fighters for its F-X requirement.
"The first flight of the ATD-X is scheduled in Japan fiscal year 2014," said Japan's defence ministry.
"The ATD-X is a trial product of a high-manoeuvrability stealth aircraft adopting various state-of-the-art technologies that may be applied to future fighters, and confirm and verify the practicality and operational effectiveness of systems under various flight conditions," said the ministry. "It is also intended for the study of air defence against stealth fighters that might be deployed in the neighbouring region in the future."
© Flightglobal/Tim Bicheno-Brown
Japan unveiled the first full-sized mock-up of the ATD-X at Japan Aerospace 2008. Many observers, noting the immense costs and risks in developing an indigenous fighter, have speculated that the project was a bargaining chip to help Tokyo gain access to the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, which Washington steadfastly refused to sell to its Pacific ally.
Meanwhile, the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Eurofighter Typhoon and Lockheed F-35A Lightning II are vying for the F-X requirement to replace Japan's McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantoms. Tokyo issued a long-awaited request for proposals for the deal in April.
According to Tokyo's mid-term defence programme for the years 2011-15, the Japan Air Self-Defence Force has initial plans to procure 12 aircraft, with the final number yet to be determined. At a media briefing at the Paris air show, however, Boeing said the F-X requirement is for 42 aircraft.
Boeing added that it elected to offer the Super Hornet as opposed to a variant of the F-15 because Japan seeks a diversity of fighter types. The country operates a large force of F-15Js, but was concerned about readiness in the event of a problem with a specific type of aircraft.
Under F-X, substantial parts of the aircraft selected will be produced in Japan. Both Boeing and Lockheed have a long history of industrial co-operation with Japan on fighter programmes, while Eurofighter is a newcomer. The strong diplomatic ties between the USA and Japan, and the possibility that they may one day face common threats in the form of North Korea or China, would appear to favour the US aircraft over their European rival.
Tokyo expects proposals to be submitted by the end of September. The defence ministry said it will request that funds for the F-X purchase be appropriated for FY2012, with the aim of inducting the aircraft in 2016.