Japan’s home-grown stealth fighter from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is aimed at matching similar stealth aircraft of China and Russia as well as competes in the world market for fifth generation fighters.
The X-2 is designed to test stealth capabilities and once in full production will compete against the US F-35, Russian T-50 and Chinese J-31 fighters. While the F-35 is about to enter service despite extensive teething problems, the Russian and Chinese fighters are at the prototype stage. Russia claims its T-50 whose prototypes are called PAK-FA, will enter service in 2017. China is less committed on the date of the J-31 entering the Chinese air force.
Japan choosing to build an aircraft targeting the world market for fifth generation fighters is a testimony to its technological prowess. Several other countries such as South Korea, China and Sweden targeting the world fighter aircraft market have done so with previous generation fighters. Barring China, the others are not keen to invest in developing fifth generation stealth technology by them.
The X-2 represents a new dawn in Japan wherein defence products have been targeted for high value-added exports together with Tokyo bolstering its military for defence against Chinese claims in the seas around Japan.
The aircraft could emerge as a cheaper alternative to the F-35 for countries in the South China Sea region such as Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Vietnam, the Philippines and Taiwan who would not be able to acquire the US plane due to US export control or production constraints.
The cost of the X-2 is pegged at 40 billion Yen (US $340 million) to develop a stealth fighter prototype, a figure significantly lesser than what it cost to develop the F-35. The lower development cost could translate into lower end-user price once the aircraft is certified to fly.
China’s J-31, a twin-engine fifth generation fighter designed and built by the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation is considered to be cheaper than Russian T-50 and F-35 aircraft and no details of its development cost has been revealed so far.
Russian T-50 or PKA-FA would cost about US$50+ million per unit and is supposed to enter production by 2017. It is a single-seat, twin-engine jet fighter and will be the first operational aircraft in Russian service to use stealth technology.
The US F-35 is the costliest of all the stealth aircraft being developed. Since development the production costs have reduced to about 55 per cent but it still is the costliest with about $100 million per unit.
Japan still needs to develop the avionics, engines, materials, weapons bays and thrust vectoring systems to become a fully developed stealth fighter.
The Japanese Defense Ministry’s Acquisition, Technology and Logistics agency plans to assess data obtained from the prototype and decide by fiscal 2018 whether to develop domestically or engage in joint international development of aircraft to replace the ASDF’s F-2 fighter.