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Friday, August 22, 2014

Japan Looking For Air Supremacy

Despite Constitutional arrangements to the contrary, Japan is looking to up the ante in its belief it will soon require its own airfare - and not just for the Japanese Self-Defense Force.

Starting in 2015, Japan will be testing out the Advanced Technology Demonstrator-X (ATD-X) - a state-of-the-art jet fighter constructed by the Japanese Ministry of Defense's Technical Research &
Development Institute that it actually began working on some four years earlier.    

Part of this, that makes it particularly interesting, is that since World War II, this is essentially the first time that Japan has developed its own fighter jet without having to rely on the machinations of its allied Western contractors.

The Ministry of Defense has hinted it will ask for about ¥40-billion (US $384-million) in funding for the fiscal year starting in April of 2015.

Part of that funding is expected to go towards realizing by 2018 if it should continue with the totally Japanese ATD-X.

The reason why the development of the ATD-X all-Japan fighter jet began was, pure and simple, because the F-2 fighter being produced by Japanese and U.S. concerns had come to an end.

While the last of the F-2 jets is expected to be out of service to the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force by about 2028 - development obviously needs to start now… or four years earlier.

According to the Technical Research & Development Institute, it has already made some great progress on the ATD-X's development, with advances on lightweighting the airframe and improvements to the missile-firing mechanisms.

Although the proposed engines for the ATD-X are not yet ready—in fact, they haven't been designed yet—an initial flight to test the way the plane handles in the air is scheduled for January 2015 using stand-in jet engines.

The Technical Research & Development Institute says that the proposed prototype jet engines for the ATD-X will begin by April 2015 involving the combined might of such powerhouse Japanese firms as: IHI Corporation, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. and other defense contractors.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, if you will recall, was the company behind the development of the Mitsubishi Zero fighter plane during WWII that inflicted heavy losses on Japan's enemy at the beginning of the war with its quickness… though at  the time, a lot of the quickness was derived from light-weighting the plane owing to inferior armor protection, which usually meant that a couple of bullets could take it down.

IHI Corporation, formerly known as Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries Co., Ltd. is a Japanese company renowned for production of ships, airplane engines, turbochargers for automobiles, industrial machines, power station boilers and other facilities, suspension bridges and other transport-related machinery.

The Ishikawajima Ne-20 (石川島 ネ-20) was Japan's first turbojet engine that was actually developed during World War II in parallel with the nation's first military jet, the Nakajima Kikka (中島 橘花 "Orange Blossom).

The task of completing these engines for the ATD-X will be completed in five years, but it is expected that for the engine's turbine blades, the companies will utilize heat-resistant ceramics… which is supposed to be an area where Japan is a global leader.

It's not like Japan hasn't built a jet on its own before, as WWII will attest, and it certainly has the know-how and capabilities, but the idea is to design a jet in 2014 that will still seem futuristic and very viable by the time it debuts and for a few years after that.

The initial costs for the ATD-X - or whatever it will be called when the final product is produced - is around ¥500- to ¥800 billion, but there will always be unforeseen costs, so you can be sure that no matter what the estimate, it is only an estimate. No one ever comes in under budget, except when they don't want to.

Now, come what may of the whole ATD-X fighter jet, which I assume MUST have stealth technology rendering it virtually invisible to radar and hat-seeking missiles, even if the plane is not purchased as Japan's next great fighter jet, the technology developed can and will be used for Japan to sell to other countries in the development of their aviation technology.

Image above shows Japan's experimental ATD-X next-gen stealth jet fighter. Photo: Japan Ministry of Defense.

Andrew Joseph

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