http://www.wsj.com/articles/japan-unveils-first-stealth-fighter-1453977421 NAGOYA, Japan—Japan on Thursday unveiled its first radar-evading stealth aircraft, aiming to close a gap with neighbors such as China and Russia, which have been flying fighter planes equipped with the technology for more than five years. Confronted with regional challenges such as China building artificial islands in the South China Sea and North Korea testing nuclear devices, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abehas eased postwar restrictions on the country’s military and is trying to bolster its limited weapons-building capabilities. In the latest move, the Ministry of Defense showed off a test aircraft called X-2 in a heavily guarded hangar at a factory here that is operated by Japan’s biggest military contractor, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. Ministry officials said the plane would perform its first test flight as early as mid-February. At 14 meters (46-feet) in length, the ¥40 billion ($340 million) red and white-painted X-2 is smaller than a standard jet fighter. It is unarmed and its engines are underpowered. Analysts say it would take many years for Japan to develop it into an actual warplane. ENLARGE A member of the Japan Self-Defense Forces stands guard in front of the X-2 test plane.PHOTO: TOMOHIRO OHSUMI/BLOOMBERG NEWS But that may not be the point. Rather than aiming to build its own plane, they say, Japan may be signaling its hopes of joining the U.S. or other allies in developing a fighter through an international partnership—a way for allies to develop ever more expensive weapons systems. By joining the small club of countries that possess stealth technology, including the U.S., Russia and China, Japan can show that it brings something to the table. “In order to participate in a project as an equal partner, Japan has to offer knowledge, experience or technologies worthy of an equal partner,” said aerospace analystYoshitomo Aoki. A postwar policy of pacifism, including restrictions on weapons exports, made it difficult for Japan take part in international partnerships such as the Joint Strike Fighter, which led to the development of Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35. But Mr. Abe’s government in 2014 eased the ban on exports in an effort to boost the competitiveness of Japan’s arms industry. Japan has ordered 42 F-35s, which are expected to replace the country’s aging fleet of F-4 fighters. Japan is weighing options for eventually replacing another fighter, theMitsubishi-built F-2, based on the U.S. F-16. That is where the X-2 could come in. The U.S. refused to export its most advanced stealth fighter, the F-22, to Japan, which wanted to buy the plane. The search for a replacement for the F-2 could overlap with U.S. plans to develop a new generation of fighters beyond the F-22. Ministry of Defense officials said Thursday that they would decide by March 2019 whether to make a fighter domestically, develop one with international partners or import one. They said they had begun exchanging information with other countries but declined to name them. The X-2’s stealthy features include a special coating on the canopy that houses the pilot, as well as a carbon-fiber composite material that absorbs radar waves, said Hirofumi Doi,program manager at the Ministry of Defense’s procurement agency, in an interview before the Thursday unveiling. Demonstrating these and other technologies “puts them in a better position to negotiate with foreign manufacturers on the specifications and technologies involved in any joint development project,” said Lance Gatling, president of Nexial Research, an aerospace consulting firm. The X-2 will also bolster Japan’s defenses in another way, Mr. Doi said. Because China and Russia have developed radar-evading jets, “we can come up with countermeasures by learning what stealth technology is all about,” he said. Russia flew its first stealth fighter in 2010 and China followed a year later, though each country’s programs have experienced delays and other setbacks. The U.S. has flown stealth aircraft since the 1980s. The X-2 also reflects the growing ambitions of Mitsubishi, which made the legendary World War II-era Zero fighter and now makes wings for the Boeing 787 jetliner. A passenger airliner developed by the company, the Mitsubishi Regional Jet, completed its first test flight in November, though delivery of the plane to airline customers has been delayed repeatedly—most recently until 2018. Mitsuru Hamada, chief engineer in the aircraft division of Mitsubishi Heavy’s integrated space systems division, said he hoped Japan would decide to build a fighter. More than 200 companies were involved in developing the test plane alone, so doing so would “bolster the entire aerospace industry,” he said.