Monday, February 01, 2016

Plan B in the Air

Japan is working on their own stealth fighter. I wonder if it is a true all-around stealth plane or more like the Russian and Chinese planes that are front-only stealth planes. Still, this effort makes me feel better about our F-35.

Japan is building a stealth fighter:

Japan publicly unveiled its Mitsubishi Heavy Industries X-2 stealth fighter demonstrator earlier today in Toyoyama. If all goes as planned, the prototype aircraft will take to the air in the middle of February for a series of flight tests—making Japan the fourth nation to demonstrate such capabilities.

But they can't really afford to build it. But this makes me feel very good:

Unlike the Pentagon’s Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the X-2—which until recently was called the ATD-X—is optimized for high agility and boasts three-dimensional thrust vectoring. ...

Japan is not likely to develop the X-2 into a fully operational stealth aircraft—the cost is just not worth it for a limited production run. Instead, the country is likely setting itself up to participate in a future co-development effort with an international partner. The most likely partner would be the United States, which is gearing up to develop the F-X and F/A-XX follow-ons to the F-22 Raptor and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.

Why does it make me feel good? Because I'm worried about our design philosophy for the F-35 and we don't have nearly enough F-22s should that philosophy prove premature:

As a report from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments found last year, 'advances in electronic sensors, communications technology, and guided weapons may have fundamentally transformed the nature of air combat.' Other than its stealth capability, these are attributes where the F-35 boasts significantly advances. It seems the stealth characteristics that were the big selling point of the F-35 may become second tier, and its sensor and communication capabilities could make it the plane for our time.

Perhaps the Air Force is right and the need to maneuver is a thing of the past. But in case we can't fly with the tray table down, it will be nice to have a Plan B with a partnership with Japan that creates a maneuverable fighter.