Unofficially, Japan’s experimental stealth fighter jet is called “Shinshin,” which in Japanese means “spirit of the heart.” Officially, it is known as the Advanced Technology Demonstrator X (ATD-X), and it’s to be flight tested early next year.
After those tests, the makers — Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. — will hand over the ATD-X to Japan’s self-defense forces for further testing.
This latest update on Japan’s experimental aircraft comes as there have been ongoing tensions between the Japanese and Beijing over contested territories in the East China Sea. There are also strained relations between Moscow and Tokyo over Russia’s ongoing occupation of the Kuril Islands.
Additionally, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in September, pushed security bills through the Japanese parliament that allow the nation’s military to assist the U.S. and its allies even if Japan is not under attack itself.
“The security environment around Japan is becoming increasingly complex, and Japan needs to maintain air capabilities commensurate to those of other air forces in the region,” Rukmani Gupta, an analyst in New Delhi at IHS Jane, told Bloomberg.
“Should the ATD-X test be deemed successful, it is very likely that Japan will pursue production of a next-generation fighter,” Gupta said.
Watch this report by Bloomberg about the ATD-X:
The ATD-X has been in development since 2007, and the program has a budget of around $324 million.
At this stage, it is still unknown if the ATD-X is actually viable as a fighter jet.
“These experimental fighters are an exercise in the realm of the possible,” Lance Gatling, head of aerospace consultancy Nexial Research, told Bloomberg.
“In terms of international relations, it’s a bargaining chip. They can say: ‘We did a credible job on this; we may just build our own if you don’t give us a better deal or you don’t give us a portion of the production in Japan,'” said Gatling.
If Japan does go ahead with the ATD-X, they will join the likes of the U.S., Russia, and China, all of whom have produced their own radar defying stealth aircraft.
India and Turkey are currently developing their own fifth generation aircraft, while South Korea and Indonesia have a joint development program.
If nothing eventuates from the ATD-X program, Japan will still have stealth fighter jet capabilities on the cards thanks to a 2011 order for the 42 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter from America, which are yet to arrive.
See this TestTube News video for a look at the dispute between Japan and Russia over the Kuril Islands: