I came across an interesting video posted on the Aviationist website. The CGI video shows a mix of Japanese 5th generation aircraft destroying Chinese forces in 2035. Although the video is certainly entertaining, the status of Japan's 5th generation domestic fighter program, the ATD-X, is far from materializing into anything. The planned ATD-X demonstrator is basically an F-22A; the program was created in part as a result of the export ban on the F-22 by the United States Congress. Japan's aerospace industry is a classic example of how NOT to develop new fighter aircraft. Japanese Government policy in regards to prioritizing domestic aerospace development has historically produced aircraft at exorbitant prices with little to no added benefit in capabilities.
"Japan is still trying to dig itself out of the financial hole resulting from its last national fighter, the ill-starred F-2. That warplane began development in the late 1980s as a ‘Japanization’ of the Lockheed Martin F-16, adding a bigger wing and better electronics. But the modifications, performed by Mitsubishi, proved difficult. And the limited production run – fewer than 100 copies over 20 years – made it impossible for Mitsubishi to achieve economies of scale. It’s been claimed that an F-2 costs four times as much as an F-16, without providing anywhere near a fourfold increase in capability." - David Axe, 2011
The F-2 program is just one of many minimally effective Japanese domestic aerospace development programs. In 2008 Japan cancelled its order of licence built (Fuji Heavy Industries) AH-64D Apaches from 62 to just 14 as each helicopter had a unit price of $85 million dollars; Boeing produced AH-64D's cost less than $30 million per unit. The Japanese defense industry is ill-suited to take on an aerospace mega project like the ATD-X. The Japanese military budget is limited to 1% of GDP meaning the ATD-X is doomed if past aerospace projects are any indication.
"ATD-X could eventually set Japan back $100 billion once design, production, maintenance and operations were factored in. Assuming a 40-year service life for the plane, that would mean the Shinshin could consume more than 5 percent of Japan’s roughly $50-billion-a-year defence budget – and produce just a few dozen copies." - David Axe, 2011
Its worth noting that the ATD-X won't start development in earnest until 2016-2017 meaning a final product (designated F-3) won't be viable until at least the mid 2020s and deployment in the late 2020s. By the time the F-3 fighter enters service it will be of little use. American 6th generation aircraft such as the F/A-XX and the Lockheed concept shown below are planned to enter service by 2030-2035.
If Japan really wants to develop a domestic 5th generation program, they need to make substantial reforms to their defense industry. As far as both intellectual capital and monetary resources are concerned, only the United States, China, and Russia are in a position to develop 5th generation aircraft for the foreseeable future. The prudent path forward for Japan is to learn as much as it can from co-producing the F-35 before attempting to create a new ultra ambitious aerospace program of its own.
The only 5th generation fighter program that stands a reasonable degree of success outside of China, Russia and the United States is the South Korean KF-X program. Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) is much more practical in its ambition when compared to Japan's ATD-X program. The KF-X-E concept is intended replace the the KF-16 by 2030 and features a relaxed low observable design.
"Retention of the single tail on the KF-X-E is emblematic of the limited ambition of the designers, who appear to have aimed at achieving a level of stealth above that of the Eurofighter Typhoon and Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet but well below that of the Lockheed Martin F-22 and F-35. The latter two, like other stealth aircraft, have canted twin tail fins." - Bradley Perrett, Bill Sweetman, 2013
KAI knows that the KF-X-E will enter service at a time where the F-35 is the dominant 5th generation export, thus its strategy is to market the KF-X-E as a 5th generation Gripen of sorts: a low cost, lower performance fighter for lower budget militaries. The KF-X program still has a very long way to go and could easily fail but other foreign stealth fighter programs are even more dubious.
Before anyone shouts at me for forgetting India, I didn't. India is trying to develop the 5th generation advanced medium combat aircraft. Given the myriad of problems with the comparatively technologically simple 4th generation HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited) Tejas, I seriously doubt HAL is in any position to develop 5th generation aircraft without substantial Russian assistance in the near future. Even with Russian cooperation, the current 5th generation FGFA order was cut from 200 to 144 due to price overruns.
Author's Note: I wrote this article in about 1 hour as opposed to a week just for the purpose of getting out content while I work on major articles. Let me know what you think, if this more relaxed style of writing is acceptable to you, I can put out more content more frequently (I would still continue the more substantial more in depth type articles as well).