The new branch of Japanese Army fighters includes 9 aircraft, each with its own distinctive character. In general, they can be compared to fencers: lightly armed, but very maneuverable. The main differences of this branch from the Zero series are their more accurate, but less powerful weapons, and better handling in turns, but even lower durability.
The aircraft of the new branch reflect the evolution of the Japanese Army’s aviation and a gradual change in the paradigm. The low-tier planes are extremely fragile, lightly armed, and very maneuverable in close combat. The mid-tier planes are mid-altitude interceptors that have slightly sacrificed their maneuverability in favor of armor protection and enhanced weapons. The high-tier planes can be described as dynamic and elusive "glass cannons".
Kawasaki Ki-10, tier II
The Kawasaki Ki-10 (Type 95) that entered service in 1935 was very similar to late German biplanes and there is a reason for this: the plane was designed under the supervision of Takeo Doi, a trainee of the German engineer Richard Vogt and his successor as chief designer for Kawasaki. The fighter won in the competition against the Nakajima Ki-11 since the Army preferred the higher maneuverability of the biplane to the increased speed of the monoplane.
The Ki-10 was used in the initial campaigns of the Second Sino-Japanese War and proved an excellent fighter against the Chinese air force. However, by the time of the Battles of Khalkhyn Gol, the plane was largely obsolete and could not successfully combat the U.S.S.R. I-16 that had superior speed, durability, and weapons.
In WoWP, the Kawasaki Ki-10 will be quite similar to the German He-51 in its flying behavior. High roll speed, good speed and dive performance, and two accurate 7.7 mm machine guns are advantages of this aircraft, counterbalancing the low durability and susceptibility to fire (typical of the entire Japanese Tech Tree) due to the absence of self-sealing in the fuel tanks.
Nakajima Ki-27, tier III
One of the most widely produced and famous fighters of the Japanese Army. The Ki-27 showed excellent performance in the skies over China. By the time the Empire of Japan entered World War II, it was the main plane of the IJAAF that saw service over the Indochinese Peninsula, Malaya, the Philippines, and Burma and was used for homeland defense.
The all-metal monoplane was only slightly inferior to the preceding biplanes in maneuverability, but was significantly superior in other flight characteristics. Weak machine guns were not considered a significant drawback back then, while its high stability in the wide range of speeds along with good handling made it an excellent plane for air duels. The aircraft was extensively used in the initial period of the Pacific War. However, as in the case with the Ki-10, the more advanced aircraft of the Allies forced the Japanese designers to start developing the next generation of fighters. The Ki-27 were gradually relegated to training and finally to kamikaze use.
In the game, the Nakajima Ki-27 is an excellent duelist in tier III. Its excellent roll and yaw maneuverability make it a favorite even in an engagement with the I-16 (early). The 12.7 mm machine guns feature high accuracy, but deal relatively low damage. However, it does not pose a problem in a turning battle. The Ki-27 is capable of maneuvering longer than most enemy planes: despite a weak boost and poor dive speed gain, it is good at conserving energy and quickly accelerating.
Nakajima Ki-43-I Hayabusa, tier IV
Development of the legendary Ki-43 Hayabusa ("Peregrine Falcon") was started in late 1937, and its first prototype was completed in 1939. The plane inherited a lot from the then main Imperial Army Ki-27 fighter. The specification for the new project called for a higher range, ceiling, speed, and rate of climb, whilst keeping the maneuverability at least (!) as good as that of the Ki-27. The Ki-43 is a typical example of the compromises that the Japanese designers had to make. The excellent handling, rate of climb, and maneuverability of the fighter were achieved primarily by lightening the airframe as much as possible. As a result, its durability became so low that its pilots avoided diving due to the risk of destroying the wings.
The Ki-43-I entered service in 1941 and successfully fought in Malaya, the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), Burma, and New Guinea. The Allied pilots who faced these aircraft in the Pacific Ocean Theater were taken aback by the climb rate and maneuverability of the Ki-43, which made it a tough target for the U.S. fighters, the P-36 and P-40 in particular.
The in-game Ki-43-I is very similar to its predecessor (the Ki-27) and features excellent maneuverability in all axes, good energy conservation and dynamics, as well as high weapon accuracy. In top configuration, the planes are equipped with two 20 mm cannons, although a high knockdown ability should not be expected. The disadvantages of the Hayabusa are typically low durability, susceptibility to critical damage and fire, and quite low dive performance. Nevertheless, most adversaries will not be able to outmaneuver this fighter in a turning battle at close range. The main thing to remember when playing this aircraft is to stay away from massive engagements; the Ki-43 is designed for duels.
Nakajima Ki-43-II Hayabusa, tier V
A further development of the Ki-43-I in 1942 that was aimed at addressing the critical faults noted by the IJAAF pilots. Among the faults were low dive performance, difficulty in performing certain maneuvers, and general unreliability of the airframe.
This modification of the Peregrine Falcon was fitted with an upgraded version of the Ha-25 engine, the Ha-115 engine with a two-stage supercharger. This significantly improved the combat efficiency of the aircraft at high altitude. The wing structure was strengthened and the span was slightly reduced. The airframe was reinforced in general. As a result, its reliability was significantly improved. The plane even acquired the ability to carry outboard 250 kg bombs. Also, a lot of attention was finally focused on durability: the aircraft was fitted with a 13 mm armor plate for the pilot's head and back, and its fuel tanks had a rubber bladder to protect them from fire. The rubber bladder proved highly resistant against 7.7 mm bullets, but large caliber bullets still damaged the tanks. The further development of the Ki-43-II included a new more powerful Ha-115-II engine (the aircraft was designated Ki-43-III).
In total, about 6,000 Ki-43 Hayabusas of various modifications were built from 1942 to 1945 and deployed with different effectiveness by the Japanese Army in different theaters of war. In the Pacific Theater, the Ki-43-II were quite effective against the U.S. air force until more maneuverable and well-armored Allied aircraft were introduced. Even then, the Japanese Army pilots could still gain superiority through the effective use of the Hayabusas’ advantages: from October to December 1944, pilots of the Ki-43s claimed seven C-47s, five B-24 Liberators, two Spitfires, two Beaufighters, two Mosquitoes, two F4U Corsairs, two B-29 Superfortresses, one F6F Hellcat, one P-38, and one B-25.
In WoWP, the Ki-43-II Hayabusa resembles its predecessor, the Ki-43-I. High maneuverability and weapon accuracy are still the main advantages of the fighter. However, the firepower of the top Ho-5 cannons can be insufficient for tier V. Therefore, tactics matter even more for this plane: for a successful outcome, an adversary should be engaged in a maneuverable battle at close range, while an encounter with several adversaries at a time must be avoided. Low durability and susceptibility to fire force the Ki-43-II to fly with caution.