SINGAPORE ― The test bed of Japan’s intelligence gathering version of the Kawasaki C-2 airlifter has broken cover, with photographs emerging of the aircraft undergoing taxi tests.
The photo, taken Tuesday at the Japan Air Self-Defense Force base at Gifu, shows a C-2 with enlarged fairings on the nose, tail, top and sides of the rear fuselage. According to documents released by Japanese Defense Ministry’s acquisition agency, the aircraft variant will have an electronic intelligence/communications intelligence suite.
Gifu is the home of the JASDF’s Air Development and Test Wing, which, as its name suggests, carries out development and flight testing of new platforms and systems for the JASDF.
Defense News spoke to Kawasaki representatives at the Singapore Airshow about the program and test bed. A representative confirmed that the company was given a contract “a number of years ago” to develop and build an aircraft for intelligence gathering, although he declined to give further details.
Japan’s Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency referred Defense News to literature produced for a 2015 symposium conducted by the agency when contacted for comment on the program.
The documents seen by Defense News note that Japan sought a new elint/comint platform to replace the NAMC YS-11EB turboprop elint/comint aircraft, which are due to be retired from JASDF service.
The documents also reveal that initial studies into modifying the C-2 into an elint/comint platform started in 2004, with further development and modification into a test bed taking place from 2013. The acceptance and start of flight tests at Japan’s Iruma air base originally intended to start in late 2017 and run until the end of this year.
The C-2 elint/comint platform is expected to be able to collect, process and pass on intercepted data on adversary land, naval and aerial systems using a highly automated process, with antennas inside the additional fairings capable of intercepting signals emitted across a wide frequency spectrum from long range, as well as pinpoint the direction and location of adversary systems.
Kawasaki has produced six of 40 C-2s ordered by the JASDF, and the Japanese government has been actively trying to promote the type overseas as part of its effort to export Japanese-built defense articles. The JASDF had previously sent the C-2 to the Dubai Airshow, as well as visiting Australia and New Zealand, with the latter having an outstanding requirement for a new airlifter.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.