Dear Ministry of Defense. Can we have some new pics, please? Thanks.

The Associated Press ran an article today which quotes General Hideyuki Yoshioka, director of air systems development at the Ministry of Defense as saying that the ATD-X, or Shinshin (“Spirit”) fighter will fly for the first time some time in 2014.

[Yoshioka] said Japan has put 39 billion yen ($473 million) into the project since 2009, after it became clear the U.S. was not likely to sell it the F-22 “Raptor”—America’s most advanced fighter jet—because of a congressional export ban.

“We are two years into the project, and we are on schedule,” Gen. Yoshioka said Monday. He stressed that a successful test flight of the prototype, dubbed “Shinshin” (“Spirit”), would not lead to immediate production. The prototype would test advanced technologies, and if successful the government would decide in 2016 how to proceed. (Link)

A few things to note:

1. Contrary to what General Yoshioka says, Shinshin has been in development for the better part of a decade, with a wind tunnel model being tested in France in 2005. It’s more likely that development has accelerated since 2009, when Japan realized the F-22 was not going to be exported.

2. Japan is only three years away from a flying prototype and is only spending an average $157 million USD a year? Really? The U.S. Joint Strike Fighter will run roughly $50 billion USD dollars in development costs, or an average of $3.3 USD billion per year. Granted, the JSF is actually three planes, but still. PAK-FA, the Russian-Indian jet, is estimated to ultimately cost $8-10 billion USD to develop. Furthermore, both the U.S. and Russia have experience building jets from scratch, which Japan does not. Japan’s only indigenous postwar fighter, the F-2, was built with the assistance of Lockheed Martin and based on an existing design.

Bottom line: expect Shinshin’s development costs to skyrocket over the next decade.

3. Assuming Shinshin is being built as an interceptor to replace the F-15J, and assuming that Japan takes China’s buildup into consideration, it will probably replace the F-15J on a 1:1 basis, roughly 200 planes split between fighters and trainers. If Gen. Yoshioka thinks that the plane will spawn a $100 Billion USD industry, that means each plane would be responsible for $500 million USD over the course of its lifetime, from development to procurement to cradle-to-grave life cycle costs.

That’s awfully high, but the U.S. Air Force’s F-22 costs $50,000 per hour to fly. Assuming the F-22 is good for 8,000 flight hours, about average for a Western combat aircraft, that’s $400 million over the life of the plane. And that’s not even counting the actual cost of each plane.

If anything, General Yoshioka’s numbers may be a bit low.

Then there are the wonders of export sal — oh that’s right. I forgot. Silly me, thinking like an American again. Well, a lot can happen in ten years.

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A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
Kyle Mizokami has 536 post(s) on Japan Security Watch