April 27, 2016

Japan - X-2 expected to clock around 50 flights during test campaign

Japan envisages a one-year test campaign for the Mitsubishi X-2 technology demonstrator, with around 50 flights planned.

The aircraft’s 25min maiden flight, on 22 April, saw it reach an altitude of 12,000ft and a top speed of 200kt (370km/h), says Hirofumi Doi, manager of Japan’s Future Fighter Program at the defence ministry’s Acquisition, Technology & Logistics Agency (ATLA).

“It was a very ordinary maiden flight,” says Doi in an interview with Flightglobal. “The pilot just checked controllability and did some simulated landings while in the air.”

Depending on weather, the second sortie could take place this week. During this flight, the aircraft will retract its landing gear and accelerate to higher speeds.

The planned one-year test campaign for the X-2 will help ATLA gather data on advanced fighter technologies such as stealth, thrust vectoring, data links, and other areas. The testing campaign could be extended if necessary.

“[An extension] definitely could happen,” says Doi. “It depends on the data we get. If we want more data on stealth or something else we may have to extend the campaign.”

While the aircraft bears low-observable characteristics, such as canted tails and intakes designed to conceal the engines' fan blades, it has no stealth coatings. Doi says the only element of the aircraft with stealthy coatings is the canopy.

The X-2, formerly designated ATD-X, is part of a larger effort Japan has run since the 1990s to explore technologies necessary for stealthy fifth- or sixth-generation fighter. The effort comprises 15 separate programmes, of which the X-2 aircraft itself is the most significant. Other programmes are investigating specific technologies such as weapons bays, sensors, data links, and other areas deemed necessary for advanced fighter aircraft.

The ultimate goal is to use the knowledge gleaned to inform a new Japanese fighter, tentatively designated the F-3. A decision will be made in 2018 as to whether this aircraft will be developed indigenously or with international partners.

If Tokyo chooses to co-develop the F-3 with a partner, only then will it share data from the X-2 and other research programmes. Irrespective of whether Tokyo develops the F-3 alone or with a partner it will be expensive, but Doi feels the effort is definitely worth it.

He notes that the Lockheed Martin F-35 that Tokyo decided to acquire in 2011, and which will be licence-produced by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, does not come with the transfer of the most sensitive fighter technologies.

“With the F-35 programme we are not allowed access to the highest technologies that the US has,” says Doi. “Our experience can tell you that development programmes help our defence industry and can increase capabilities, knowledge, and skills.”

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