MELBOURNE, Australia — Japan has denied reports speculating that it had test-fired a new supersonic air-launched anti-ship missile last week, although a test-firing is still on the cards for later this year.

Responding to questions from Defense News, a spokeswoman from the Japanese Ministry of Defense's Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency, or ATLA, also confirmed that it is planning to test-fire a XASM-3 missile from a Mitsubishi F-2 fighter jet at a missile range in the Gulf of Wakasa, off western Japan.

The ATLA spokeswoman was unable to provide a more specific date other than that it will be sometime in fiscal 2017 fiscal, which in Japan runs from April 1 of this year to March 31, 2018, saying that it would depend on the progress of the missile's development program as well as weather and sea conditions.

However, ATLA tender documents indicate that it is seeking flight test control and telemetry relay equipment specifically for the monitoring and recording of flight test data for the XASM-3 against an "offshore target" to be delivered in late April 2017, which suggests that any live firing will occur only in late May or early June at the earliest.

The recent reports of a possible test firing were sparked by images of an F-2 of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force's Air Development and Test Wing from Gifu Air Base in western Japan returning from a sortie in late February without the test missile it was carrying. 

The same aircraft had been photographed earlier in the day carrying the missile, which given no launch occurred would indicate that a stores separation test had been carried out as a precursor to a live firing. Japan has carried out a number of modifications to the decommissioned destroyer Shirane in preparation to being the XASM-3's first target.

The XASM-3 is a ramjet-powered anti-ship missile being developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries with a reported maximum speed in excess of Mach 3 and a range of between 94 and 125 miles. The missile measures 17 feet long, and target guidance in the terminal stage will be by active radar homing or passive radar guidance (home-on-jam).

The primary carriage platform of the XASM-3 will be the F-2, and it will replace the older ASM-1 and -2 missiles currently in the Japan Air Self-Defense Force's inventory. It was previously reported that Japan had planned to test-fire the XASM-3 sometime in 2016, and no reason has been given for the delay.

Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.

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