Japan's Acquisition, Technology & Logistics Agency (ATLA) is approaching the end of testing with the Mitsubishi X-2 technology demonstrator aircraft.
The twin-engined fighter has completed 34 sorties, says Hirofumi Doi, manager of Japan's Future Fighter Program at ATLA. The first two flights were conducted by Mitsubishi, the subsequent 32 by ATLA at Gifu air base. The aircraft's maiden flight occurred on 22 April 2016.
ATLA's original plans called for 50 flights. Doi declined to specify how many more flights would occur, but says that the X-2 demonstration project will be concluded in March 2018. What happens to the aircraft after this has not been determined. The aircraft was previously designated ATD-X.
"The necessary data has been aquired to evaluate the demonstrated technologies' marurities," says Doi. "The technological skills of F-2 experienced enginners have been transferred to the younger generation successfully."
An evolution of the Lockheed Martin F-16, the F-2 was produced from 1995 to 2011, with 94 examples procured. It is due to be retired in the 2030s.
Doi adds that no major obstacles emerged during X-2 flight testing. Issues with propulsion, the fuel system, and integration were ironed out before the maiden flight.
Powered by two IHI XF5-1 low-bypass engines equipped with afterburners, the aircraft is small by fighter standards, with a length of 14.2m (46.5ft) and a wingspan of 9.1m.
The X-2 is a key component of a larger effort Japan has made since the 1990s to explore technologies necessary for stealthy fifth- or sixth-generation aircraft. The effort comprises 15 separate programmes, of which the X-2 is the most significant. These are investigating specific technologies such as weapons bays, sensors, data links, and other areas deemed necessary for advanced fighter aircraft.
The X-2 work will allow Tokyo to assess the merits of its future fighter acquistition strategy. Options included developing a new fighter called the F-3 on its own, or developing a fighter with a foreign partner.
Tokyo could end up deciding instead to obtain additional Lockheed Martin F-35As, which are licence produced by Mitsubishi. Tokyo's total orderbook for the F-35A stands at 42 examples.