Japan making progress with domestic stealth fighter and plans for unmanned wingmen robotics support fighters

The main flight-test program of the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) X-2 fighter technology demonstrator will begin within weeks, following three months of ground testing.

The Mitsubishi X-2 Shinshin is a Japanese experimental aircraft for testing advanced stealth fighter aircraft technologies. It is being developed by the Japanese Ministry of Defense Technical Research and Development Institute (TRDI) for research purposes. Many consider this aircraft to be Japan’s first domestically made stealth fighter.

The Japanese Ministry of Defense has released new details about its plans for future unmanned aircraft that would fly in supporting roles, aiding piloted fighters in the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force, or JASDF. Specifically, JASDF is hoping to add two distinct craft to its fleet: unmanned wingmen that would fly in formation with and receive commands from a pilot in a conventional fighter, and a high-flying ballistic-missile defense (BMD) aircraft that would use sensor arrays to track missile threats.

The BMD aircraft is slated to enter service around 2030, while the the first iteration of the unmanned wingman—which will fly ahead of fighters as a sensor carrier—is to be developed in the next 15 to 20 years. A second version of the unmanned wingman that will fire munitions and act as a missile sponge, directing incoming threats toward itself and away from the manned fighter, will be developed with the same airframe and engine as the sensor carrier if all goes according to plan.

Given the difficulty of programming an autonomous system with the aerial maneuvers necessary for successful air-to-air engagements, most countries have focused on air-to-surface platforms for unmanned aircraft. Japan, however, seems to be more optimistic and hopes the unmanned craft can fly alongside its advanced stealth fighter aircraft, the F-3, which is currently under development with a planned production date in 2027.

A mockup of Japan’s unmanned ballistic-missile detector aircraft design. Japanese Defense Ministry

Japan will have a robotic version of Goose from Top Gun

SOURCES- Aviation Week, Wikipedia, Popular Mechanics