TOKYO — Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) announced it has begun assembly of a full-scale, structural-testing model of the prototype Advanced Technology Demonstrator ATD-X fighter, also called Shinshin, ahead of the prototype’s first flight scheduled in 2014.
Shinshin is being developed by the Japanese Defense Ministry’s Technical Research and Development Institute and MHI as a domestically produced, fifth-generation fighter to replace Japan’s fleet of some 49 Mitsubishi F-2 and 135 Mitsubishi F-15 fighters later in the decade. It would be an alternative to, or would supplement, the nation’s planned buy of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 stealth fighters.
In December, in a contentious decision, the MoD decided to purchase 42 F-35s to replace the 1960s-era Mitsubishi F-4EJ Kai Phantoms starting in 2016 at a cost of $114 million per jet. But the deal quickly fell into difficulties this February, when international concerns reached Japan about the ability of the U.S. to lower F-35 costs. The issue arose after the Pentagon’s January decision to delay purchase of 179 F-35s, leading to publicly aired demands by Japanese Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka to the U.S. not to raise prices.
The origins of the Shinshin lay in Japan’s long-held desire to purchase Lockheed F-22 Raptors, but that was stymied when the U.S. Congress banned export of the fighter, leading Japan to buy the F-35 and develop its own alternative.
The project was launched in 2009 amid concerns about the technological progress made by the People’s Liberation Army Air Force. China rolled out its Chengdu J-20 in January 2011, and the fifth-generation fighter is expected to go into service as early as 2017.
MHI said assembly of the full-scale static structural test model of the ATD-X is on track to produce a flight test model of the Shinshin, which expected to make its first flight in 2014. Project completion is slated for the end of March 2017.
Shinshin will feature a number of advanced technologies, including 3-D thrust-vectoring capability, a fly-by-optics flight control system, an active electronically scanned array radar, electronic countermeasures and possibly microwave weapon functions.