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Photos: ATD-X Japan’s Stealth Jet

by John Reed on November 30, 2011

Here are some great new images of Japan’s entry in the Great Asian Stealth Fighter Race; the ATD-X air superiority fighter.

These shots show a mock-up of Mitsubishi’s design for the jet which it hopes to have flying by 2014–15.

Japan wants to field its own stealth fighter in light of China’s rapid military modernization which seems to be aimed at expanding its influence throughout the western Pacific Ocean. The island nation wanted to buy Lockheed’s F-22 Raptor to serve as its air superiority fighter but the Pentagon refused to allow it. This drove Japan to seek a two pronged approach to modernizing its air force; it will buy a foreign-made multirole fighter and then develop its own stealthy air superiority jet — albeit with help from the U.S.

The ATD-X isn’t expected to be operational until the 2020s (if ever), in the meantime, Japan is looking at buying a multirole jet — either the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet or the Eurofighter Typhoon — to replace its ancient fleet of F-4J Phantoms and some of its newer F-15 Eagles.

Click through the jump for more photos.

Hat tip to Trimble for spotting these pictures.

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{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeff November 30, 2011 at 12:32 pm

I love how that first photograph is taken in front of sign that clearly indicates "no photography."

We probably should have sold them F22s… Its ambitious of the Japanese, and I wish them "good luck"… they'll need it.


anonymous November 30, 2011 at 4:23 pm

While I agree we should have sold them the F22, a major factor in the "no-go" was the security breech of leaking information regarding the Ageis radar system.


traindodger December 1, 2011 at 6:46 am

No photography? It's in Japan, for crying out loud! You may as well put up a sign telling them not to breathe, too.


bbb December 1, 2011 at 7:09 pm

Lots and lots of places say NO PHOTOGRAPHY but that doesn't really stop people from snapping cell phone pictures.


Ross Anderson December 1, 2011 at 8:43 pm

probably a really small camera as evidenced by how much the lens is distorting the pic.


mike December 31, 2011 at 2:04 pm

looks much like the hornet


Ben November 30, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Maybe it's just the fast perspective, but these pictures make the wings look pretty small..


Praetorian November 30, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Stephen Trimble’s The Dew Line blog says the mock up is wingless


Japanese guy. November 30, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Unfortunately, we are really broke just like everyone else. Now, the cleanup for nuclear contamination will cost us even more, so I doubt it will ever be built. They just want to keep an option and keep the industry afloat.

They re-used the canopy from an old T-2 trainer, and that’s why it looks so old.



StrumPanzer December 29, 2011 at 11:49 am

Actually they used the canopy off the old F-1 fighter jet which was developed from the T-2 .


Don November 30, 2011 at 1:10 pm

My coworker made me laugh by asking if it turns into a Robot. It certainly looks very Japanese, but I'm not sure what I mean by that.


kim November 30, 2011 at 2:14 pm

the long nose….


Tim B December 1, 2011 at 1:19 am

ROBOTECH or just about any MECHA ANIME.


StrumPanzer November 30, 2011 at 1:14 pm

What the US should do is help Japan renovate one of our old Forrestal Class or Kitty-Hawk class carriers and then they can buy some Super Hornets and F-35c that would help even the odds a bit. I got to say though that ATD-X is a nice looking model. Here's another idea for Japan and South Korea, they both want a stealth fighter, could they bury the hatchet long enough to work together to build a Stealth fighter together with a few other small Asian countries who China is making nervous.


Hale November 30, 2011 at 2:07 pm

I believe the Japanese are constitutionally forbidden to have aircraft carriers. They can only have helicopter carriers.


PMI November 30, 2011 at 3:40 pm

The relevant text actually states…

" land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized"

The no carriers bit seems to have come up somewhere as an extension of the 'no offensive weapons' interpretation. That's also why they refer to their current flattops as 'helicopter destroyers'.


Will November 30, 2011 at 4:09 pm

If the Japanese were going to go the super-carrier route, they would probably go with a domestically built Queen Elizabeth. They haven't made do with hand me downs in decades.


tiger December 1, 2011 at 11:04 pm

Would you buy a 1966 Buick?? Sure it's been painted a few times. Had a motor swap & some disc brakes & headers added over time. It is still a 1966 Buick…..

Same goes with your ship idea.


boswell November 30, 2011 at 1:48 pm

The nose and canopy kinda remind me of a smaller, stealthy aardvark


Lance November 30, 2011 at 4:19 pm

I really doubt they'll replace F-15s since most have been kept in good shape over the years. With Japans economy still recovering from the earth quakes and tidal waves last February. I don't see Japan getting a fleet of new plans F-35 or there own design anytime soon. They could get F-18s to replace F-4Js in service. But a F-18 is inferior to the F-15 in performance so I don't see them going away.


Lance December 1, 2011 at 2:56 am

I just read that the F-15J will be upgraded and is already approved SO the F-15J isn't going anywhere.


Skeletor November 30, 2011 at 4:50 pm

buy the Eurofighter and follow up with an improved version of the YF-23,…


Mike December 21, 2011 at 8:41 am

The F-23 cannot and will not ever be built. Where in the world did you come up with this idea?


Sanem November 30, 2011 at 4:58 pm

BVR vs WVR is a though debate

the problem with BVR is that ECM, stealth and future technologies are likely to make it a challenge. on the other hand those same technologies will improve the use of BVR weapons

especially optical and IR sensors are developing really fast, look at the F-35 for example. combined with optical seeker heads, future aircraft could very well engage enemies at long range, completely passive and regardless of target stealth

also, modern data links remove the need for having the sensor and missile on the same aircraft. modern fighters like the Typhoon and F-35 can already use data from sister aircraft to engage an enemy. in the future it's likely that aircraft will be able to use data from any external sensor, be it ground, sea, air or space based, to fire a missile at (even a stealthy) target at long range

the problem with WVR is that it's not really an option. the F-22 for example is the best fighter in the world, not because it's so good at dogfighting (Russian aircraft and pilots are probably better at that, as they specialise in it), but because it uses superior speed, stealth and electronics to engage the enemy at range, denying the enemy a chance to counter-attack, which results in such lopsided victories

WVR it's ofcourse superior to knock-off Chinese fighters, but it'll probably be outnumbered 10 to 1 or worse, and that's assuming the Chinese don't have a few J-20's nearby, using their cheaper brethern and probably drones as bait to draw in the F-22, and than strike when it's low on missiles and fuel. or worse, sneak by and engage supporting units like AWACS and tankers, which are invaluable but vulnerable force multipliers

and the last problem with WVR engagements are future technologies. laser weapons for will completely change the way air combat is fought, especially when (not if) those can be used to shoot down enemy missiles, making those useless. a second technology that is likely to greatly affect the WVR scene are UAVs. China can build huge numbers of cheap UAVs, and use them as bait or missile platforms. not to mention if they can develop an air superiority UCAV, outmanouvering and out-thinking any manned aircraft. it sounds like science fiction, but then so did jet engines in 1939

I'd suggest Japan to follow Europe's example and skip a fase, going straight to UCAVs, they're the future of air warfare


Flounder November 30, 2011 at 7:13 pm

Hey can you please do a piece on the rolls each aircraft is supposed to fill. I keep hearing people talk about how other aircraft do a roll better than the new 5th gen ones yet they never back up any argument with solid facts that are easily corroborated.


Rabbit December 1, 2011 at 8:03 am

Most of the newest aircraft are meant to be multirole fighters (the F-35 and the T-50 PAK FA, Rafale, and so on). The F-22 is the only one specifically designed as an air dominance fighter but in recent production blocks, it has acquired the ability to drop JDAMs so it can do a bit of ground attack in a pinch, thus making it "technically" a multirole aircraft. It's true that we do tend to get a lot of meaningless geek posturing when it comes to tech (i.e. who would win in a fight).

It's safe to say that the primary role of a fighter is to establish air superiority, which is why dogfights are the main point of discussion. The only exception, from my understanding, is the F-35, which is an inferior dogfighter by design but is supposed to be excellent at ground attack, being covered by the F-22. In theory.


Tri-ring December 1, 2011 at 8:56 am

First the Shin Shin or the ATD-X is as the acronym suggest is a technical Demonstrator not intended for practical use. It is a test bed for various technology.
Next if you do a search for i3 fighter concept proposed by Ministry of Defense (MoD) Technical Research and Development Institute(TRDI), you'll find the actual sixth generation fighter concept proposed by MoD which is considering to replace the F-15J and F-2 around 2020 which look suspiciously like the F/A XX proposed by Boeing.


Jimmie December 1, 2011 at 9:10 am

I agree with giving them a carrier. The Independence just happens to be siiting by…..


navy259 December 1, 2011 at 7:59 pm

All these country's developing stealth fighter, bomber, helo's, ships. Cool! Yet Canada's got them all beat. Whats our military developing? A stealth Snowmobile. Please, no jokes about the stealth canoe's… also under development.


tiger December 2, 2011 at 12:10 am

Just keep the Iceberg Vodka flowing…..


stevenddeacon December 3, 2011 at 3:55 pm

Mitsubishi manufactured the A6M fighter plane known as the Japanese Zero or Zeke. The fighter could take off and land from aircraft carriers and short island landing strips. The Zero was more light, maneuverable, well armed with 2 X 20mm Type 99 cannon and 2 X 7.7 mm Type 97 machine guns, and had a range greater than anything the Americans and British fighter planes in the Pacific Theater during the beginning of WWII. The weakness of the Zero was its lack of armor for pilot and fuel tanks and the lack of self-sealing fuel tanks. Japanese fighter pilots lived by the Samurai Bushido code and did not believe they needed armor. The land based Curtis-Wright P-40E-1 Warhawk with six .50 caliber Browning machine guns was the only plane in 1942 which could take on a Zero but only when it could dive from above on the Zero's six o'clock for a quick kill. The P-40 AVG pilots were trained never to get into a dog fight with a Zero because the Japanese fighter could out turn the P-40 in two loops and would get into firing position on the P-40's six o'clock.

The Americans did not have a superior fighter plane available until the introduction of the Grumman F6F Hellcat, the Vought F4U Corsair for US aircraft carriers, and the North American P-51D Mustang, and the Lockheed P-38 Lightning from island landing strips. And only then when the Allied pilots were well trained in dog fighting skills to take advantage of the Japanese Zero's weaknesses and their experienced pilots. Experienced Japanese Zero pilots grew to greatly fear the Vought F4U Corsair.

I believe Mitsubishi has every intent of developing for Japan a stealth fighter with advanced avionic-electronics, armor, fueling, range, maneuverability, with high-tech target acquisition armaments to counter any threat from their mortal enemies the Chinese and Russians. Japan has a long history of territorial conflict with Russia since the crushing defeat of the Russian Second and Third Pacific Squadron Naval Fleet at the Battle of Tsushima, in the Tsushima Straits, on 27–28 May 1905 at the hands of a combined Japanese Pacific Fleet. The Chinese have never forgotten the atrocities the Japanese committed in China during WWII.


J Hughes December 8, 2011 at 10:52 pm

Ive seen these photos earlier this year. not new!


gt350 January 30, 2012 at 7:44 pm

A YF-23 is already been thru trials I'm sure North/Grumman would like to sell it since we dropped the ball.


Sonny Spence February 18, 2012 at 7:42 pm

Nice looking, The test flight of the jet will tell how good the fighter will be.North/Grumman Should help Japan with the building of the Jet Fighter.


LP. Carlson GySgt USMC November 7, 2012 at 11:53 am

The fact here is our stealth technology is out. Obama will level the world military playing field by supporting russia (we’ve all seen the off-mike video), leaving iran to build up thier nuclear program, continued borrowing from china and cutting our own military. My friends at the recruiters office were all given $10,000 and sent home. The military was thier career choice and it was taken away. I suffer from injuries sustained in the service. All I can say is be watchful and pay close attention to all of the new stealth planes from around the world because you may look to the sky one day and spot one, or two, or more. God bless us all. LPC “Gunny” 17 yrs USMC


Nessuno November 30, 2011 at 1:29 pm

BVR is overrated and over hyped.

In the event of hostilities Japan operates in an environment where they would potentially have America, South Korean, North Korean, Chinese, Russian, civilian, and other Japanese aircraft operating.

If they were ever in a situation where they would feel compelled to fire on an aircraft, they almost certainly would require visual confirmation first.


Will November 30, 2011 at 4:15 pm

It's just a mock-up. And I have to wonder what can be accomplished with stabilized, wide angle cameras feeding windows on the cockpit display, rather than the pilot furiously turning around in both directions hoping to see a bandit in a split second.


Praetorian November 30, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Stephen Trimble’s The Dew Line blog says the mock up is wingless.


Mickey November 30, 2011 at 4:57 pm

The cockpit looks like the Russian Su-27IB(Su-34).


Papi1960R January 22, 2012 at 10:13 pm

And why does everything have to look like a knockoff of a American Aircraft? Its not like Northrop built a Horton Flying wing in the desert as a starting point for the B-2 program. Oh wait, thats exactly what they did.


Sanem December 1, 2011 at 10:54 am

yes, but as technology becomes more advanced, it's also possible to identify targets at extreme ranges visually, or by radar

for example super-high flying, stealthy UAVs, like possibly the RQ-170 or the new HALE UAVs being developed, would function like mobile satellites, optically scanning huge areas and visually confirming targets without them ever knowing about it


Papi1960R January 22, 2012 at 10:06 pm

BVR maybe our best hope. When the Gripens came to Red Flag a few years ago, they were so small that they were in close quarter Air to Air with F-22s before the Raptor's vaunted Radar and Sensor package could pick them up. In close proximity the Raptors had no appearent advantage and were in trouble. Result? Like the Rafale before them, the Gripens are not invited back.


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