Japan’s Stealth Fighter Will Fly For First Time Next Year

A tentative foray into the stealth age

ATD-X Wind Tunnel Model
ATD-X Wind Tunnel Model
Hunini via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

Only a handful of countries have ever built and successfully flown a stealth fighter. Early next year, Japan may join their ranks, with scheduled test flights of its first experimental stealth fighter expected within the first three months of 2016. The Advanced Technology Demonstrator X, or ATD-X, is a tentative step forward into rare skies, and comes at a time when most of Japan's neighbors are either building or buying stealth fighters of their own.

Financial Review notes that Hirofumi Doi, a program manager at the Ministry of Defence, gave the timeframe for the flight in an interview in Tokyo. The plane is built by Japanese industrial giant Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The 46-foot-long plane was developed at a cost of $440 million (or the cost of roughly three F-35s), and it's been in the works for a while. Last year, we caught a grainy glimpse of the plane, and even if all goes well with the first flight, we shouldn't expect it to enter service any time before the 2030s.

When it does, it will be just one of many potential stealth fighters based in the Eastern Pacific, including American F-22s and F-35s, the Russian PAK FA, China's J-20 and J-31, and even Korean and Indian projects. The ATD-X is a possible replacement for Japan's current fleet of F-16-derived F-2 fighters. And when it enters service, it will join a Japanese military that is still constitutionally prohibited from offensive war but has been robustly building its strength for decades.