Tokyo: According to Japanese ministry of defence officials, the country is moving ahead with plans to develop a indigenous military combat jet that will deploy considerable stealth technology. The need for such an aircraft, officials said, is partly in response to China's accelerated military growth.
Remaining unsaid is their disappointment with the fact that the United States is not considering export of the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter or the sensitive technologies incorporated in the aircraft.
Officials said that the project would be formally launched in April 2008, and is expected to take six years to deliver results. The new Japanese stealth design, nicknamed the 'Shinshin' (Spirit), is expected to be airborne by March 2014.
The project cost is estimated at 46.6 billion yen, or around £200 million.
The development of an XF5-1 engine will be the 'heart' of the project, officials said. The engine will be designed to allow both a high degree of manoeuvrability as well as ability for the jet to reach supersonic speeds whilst still in cruise mode, or 'supercruise.'
In 'supercruise' mode an aircraft is able to cruise at supersonic speeds without the use of afterburners.
Officials stressed that development of stealth technology at home rather than accessing it from international sources, will not only act as a deterrent but also strengthen national security, particularly "in the face of stealth development in China and Russia."
The Japanese Air Self Defence Force has been seeking modern fighters to replace the ageing fleet of US-built F-4 Phantom and F-15 Eagle fighters within its inventory. While it was interested in the US stealth fighter, the F-22 Raptor, a US Congress-ordered ban on exports, as well as general US reluctance to share the aircraft's sensitive technical specifications have acted as a dampener.
A recent statement, issued by the defence ministry, highlighted the need for "fighters that are fitted with highly advanced technology, considering what's been developed in other countries."
It added: "It is a crucial project in developing fighters that will play a key role in our future fleet and build our space defence."
The statement marked the onset of the indigenous initiative.