Reports in the Japanese press recently suggested that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is planning on launching the maiden flight of their stealth technology experimental aircraft as early as next January. The plane, called the Advanced Technology Demonstrator-X, or ATD-X, will not be a prototype of a production aircraft, functioning instead as a vehicle for testing stealth capabilities.
Japanese engineers and designers are using the ATD-X project to improve their grasp of critical technologies, as well as provide a proof-of-concept demonstration of these advanced applications before their incorporation into a full-scale production model. The hope is that the testing and validation of various technological aspects will simplify the design and construction of their proposed next-generation fighter aircraft, which is currently dubbed the F-3.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and the Technical Research and Development Institute, the branch of Japan's Ministry of Defense that is overseeing the project, were both quick to deny the reports of a January launch, however, noting that they have not finalized plans for an inaugural test flight. Discussion in the press had indicated that the Japanese government expects to take over the ATD-X prototype in March and examine its performance over the following two years.
Defense industry observers believe that Japan will decide by FY 2018 whether it intends to build its next-generation fighter by itself or seek out international partners. In terms of regional hardware, the F-3 will have to contend with Chinese stealth fighter jets and potentially Russian ones, so it will likely be a stealthy aircraft but will also require significant counter-stealth capabilities.
Japan had expressed interest in the F-22, a top-of-the line US fighter jet, although the sale of the F-22 outside the US was ultimately blocked. Japan is currently slated to deploy the multi-role F-35 once it has finished development.
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