The Mitsubishi F-X | what’s the buzz behind this 6th generation stealth fighter?

Tokyo has reportedly given the go-ahead for the development of its own domestically designed sixth-generation Mitsubishi F-3 air-superiority stealth fighter. Touted to be Japan’s next-gen fighter jet, it is also said to feature advanced technology – unseen in U.S. planes, including a virtual reality-style helmet and microwave weapon to annihilate enemy missiles.

Representative | Asia Times

While the maiden flight is planned for 2028, the prototype is expected to roll out by 2024, and full-scale production is slated for 2031.

Here’s what we know so far.

The inception of the Mitsubishi F-X

The Mitsubishi F-X (unofficially called F-3 or Godzilla), is Japan’s first domestically developed stealth fighter jet, touted to replace the older F-2 fighter in the Japan Air Self Defence Force (JASDF).

Mitsubishi F-3 Prototype Stealthy Multi-Role Fighter | The Aviationist

The F-2, developed in collaboration with Lockheed Martin (1990s), is the larger, more expensive version of the American F-16 Fighting Falcon.

The development of the fight craft was deemed necessary in response to its neighbour’s cutting-edge aerial assets and air supremacy-especially China and Russia.

The F-X program began with the United States banning the exports of the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor as part of the 1997 Obey amendment to safeguard its technology.

Representative | Popular Mechanics

Much of the development of the F-X program builds on the model of the Mitsubishi X-2 Shinshin. Although X-2 was just a tech demonstrator and not a prototype for an actual fully-equipped fighter plane, it made its maiden flight in 2016 and concluded tests in 2018.

Japanese X-2 stealth about to take off | Key Aero

Design | Tech and specs

From what is known, the F-X will be a twin-engine stealth fighter designed for achieving air superiority and would incorporate all features deemed necessary to classify it as a sixth-generation fighter jet.

Conceptual design of the F-X

Stealth and avionics

To minimize radar cross-section (RCS), F-X physical design features serpentine air ducts and an internal weapons bay.  Electromagnetic wave absorbers made of carbon-based material are applied to the air ducts and engines to reduce the amount of radar reflection. Additionally, the fighter craft will feature plasma stealth antenna technology to deflect radio waves- wherein the antennae will create temporary plasma using characteristics of plasma that can alter physical properties through electrical control.

Integrated sensors including an active electronically scanned array(AESA) radar, passive radio frequency (RF) sensor, and an infrared camera will be incorporated to improve detection against stealth aircraft.

Cockpit instrumentation

Designers have considered featuring an F-35 style Helmet Mounted Display system combined with a single large liquid-crystal display. Furthermore, artificial intelligence using the man-machine interface is also being developed to streamline data flow and reduce pilot task loads.

The F-35 Helmet Might Not Be the Most Expensive Helmet in History -  ClearanceJobs
F-35 Helmet Mounted Display | Representative | clearancejobs

Engine

The F-X will be powered by two XF9 engines, with official thrust ratings of 24,000 lbf (in military thrust) and 33,000 lbf with an afterburner.

XF9-1 on a test run | Wikipedia

Reportedly, Japan’s defence ministry has been working on a three-dimensional thrust vectoring nozzle which redirects the engine’s thrust up to twenty degrees in any direction- clearly suggestive of the fact that Japan truly wants the F-3 to stand tall alongside its rivals- the American F-35 and the Russian Su-35.

2D vs 3D thrust vectoring | Representative | Source

Additionally, scientists at the defence ministry have also been working on high-speed-data-links that could network sensors and exchange targeting data with friendly forces- most likely through Link 16 secure data transfer system.

The fighter craft is also said to feature EMP-resistant fibre-optic fly-by-wire (FBW) avionics and ‘self-repairing’ flight systems that automatically detect and fix the damage(s) to an aircraft’s control surfaces.

It might also feature an “Integrated Fire Control for Fighters” (IFCF) system-wherein Japanese (and possibly U.S) fighters could pool together their sensor and missile targeting capabilities, enhancing the accuracy of beyond visual range missiles.

The F-X’s microwave weapon- which is likely to be a function of the nose-mounted radar system, could be used to fry circuitry in hostile ballistic missiles.

Directed Energy Weapons (DEW) or Microwave Weapons | Representative | Nature

While the landing systems are reported to be developed by Subaru, the F-X is also touted to be able to control up to three drone-like “loyal wingmen” craft, or “Combat Support Unmanned Aircraft”.

 In October 2020, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries was selected as the lead developer of the fighter program.

6th generation fighter crafts are, at the moment, conceptual and most of the proposed models are experimental at best. Nevertheless, the efforts seem to continue to get these models to the skies.

The UK’s future “Tempest” stealth program and the European Future Combat Air System (FCAS) are some noteworthy examples.

Tempest | Representative | Aviation International News

SOURCE(s)

COVER: Financial Times

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