A demonstration unit of the X-2 stealth fighter made its debut Thursday last week, with the Japanese-built experimental aircraft promising greater maneuverability than other stealth planes.
The jet will take its maiden flight the week of Feb. 15 or Feb. 22. Designer and builder Mitsubishi Heavy Industries will hand it over to the Ministry of Defense's Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency at the end of March. The X-2 is under development as the government prepares to replace the F-2 fighter, due for retirement around fiscal 2028.
The new plane will undergo roughly 200 hours of test flights. A decision on whether to manufacture it in Japan or launch a joint international development effort will be reached by fiscal 2018.
As a stealth aircraft, the X-2 incorporates radar-wave-absorbing material and a body designed to avoid detection. Thrust vector systems lend to its heightened maneuverability. The agency will test stealth, flight performance, control systems and other technologies.
IHI is providing an engine that uses ceramics, alloys and other cutting-edge materials to save weight and withstand the extreme heat of combustion. Although Mitsubishi Heavy put together the final design and constructed the prototype, some 220 companies including Fuji Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries participated in the project, with development costs reaching about 40 billion yen ($334 million).
The U.S. military's F-35 stealth fighter "is not that maneuverable, but the X-2 is stealthy while boasting high maneuverability," said Takahiro Yoshida, project director at the Japanese defense ministry's acquisitions agency.
He declined to identify possible international development partners but said the agency is "gathering information and exchanging opinions."