Japan will begin test flights next year to determine whether the country has the right stuff to build a fighter jet without relying on Western contractors.
The Ministry of Defense plans to seek around 40 billion yen ($384 million) in funding for the effort for the fiscal year starting next April.
The government will decide by fiscal 2018 whether to proceed with the development of a purely Japanese fighter, according to its latest medium-term defense program.
Production of the F-2, a fighter jointly by Japan and the U.S., ended in fiscal 2011. The last of the jets are expected to be retired from the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force around fiscal 2028.
To gauge the feasibility of creating an indigenous fighter, the ministry’s Technical Research & Development Institute began work on the Advanced Technology Demonstrator-X (ATD-X) four years ago. Researchers have made progress in a number of areas, including lightweight airframe designs and missile-firing mechanisms.
The ATD-X is slated for its first flight using stand-in engines next January. Testing of stealth airframe designs is to begin in April. Prototyping of the actual engines — a joint effort by IHI, Mitsubishi Heavy and other defense contractors — is to start as soon as fiscal 2015 and take about five years. Heat-resistant ceramics, an area in which Japan excels, will be employed for the turbine blades.
Creating a fighter jet of its own will prove fiscally as well as technically demanding for Japan. Initial costs are estimated at 500 billion yen to 800 billion yen, but test flights and the development of ancillary equipment will likely add significantly to the total.
Even if Japan takes a pass on the end result, the defense ministry reckons that possessing its own fighter technology will work to the country’s advantage in joining multinational arms development programs and negotiating to buy other countries’ fighters.