Britain, Italy and Japan announced on Friday that they will jointly develop a future fighter jet in a project that British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said would guarantee national security and save thousands of jobs.
The three nations vowed to work with European and US allies developing their own “sixth generation” aircraft and vowed to maintain “interoperability” between all allies against threats like China and Russia.
The new “Global Combat Air Program” is set to produce its first jets by 2035 and will bring together the three nations’ costly existing research into new air warfare technology, from stealth capability to high-tech sensors.
“We are one of the few countries in the world capable of building technologically advanced combat aircraft,” Sunak told reporters during a visit to a Royal Air Force base in eastern England.
“This is important because it means we can protect the country from the new threats we face,” he said.
“It also adds billions to our economy and supports tens of thousands of jobs across the country. But it is also good for our international reputation.”
The announcement was accompanied by a series of images showing an artistic impression of the sleek new jets flying past Mount Fuji and over London and Rome.
In a joint statement, the three countries said the project will “accelerate our advanced military capabilities and technological edge” at a time when “threats and aggression are increasing worldwide.”
The goal is to develop a twin-engine stealth aircraft by 2035 that can be operated with or without a crew, is opaque to radar and has features such as laser-guided weapons and a virtual cockpit.
For the current “fifth generation” of fighters, the three nations rely on US-made F-35s.
Officials in Tokyo, however, emphasized that Japan is not turning its back on its close military alliance with Washington.
In a separate joint statement with the Japanese Ministry of Defense, the US Department of Defense said it supports the project.
“We have initiated an important collaboration through a series of discussions on autonomous systems capabilities that could complement Japan’s next combat aircraft program, among other platforms,” the US-Japan statement said.
For Britain and Italy, the new jet, codenamed Tempest, would replace the Eurofighter Typhoon that was being developed with other European allies, including Germany and Spain.
For the next generation, Germany and Spain have joined France in their own project, while the United States, as well as China and Russia, have separate plans in the works.
– Print from China –
Japan’s previous project to build a next-generation fighter jet, dubbed the FX, was reportedly expected to cost more than five trillion yen (about $40 billion).
Friday’s announcement comes with Tokyo poised to undertake the biggest overhaul of its security strategy in decades.
The government plans to increase defense spending – a controversial move in a nation whose constitution limits military capacity to supposed self-defense.
But the war in Ukraine, repeated missile launches from North Korea and mounting pressure from China have helped build support for a larger budget.
Japanese daily Nikkei Business said companies Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, BAE Systems and Leonardo would oversee the new project, which is Tokyo’s second joint development after the SM-3 missile made with Washington.
Other companies expected to be in the mix include British jet maker Rolls-Royce, Italy’s Avio Aero and Japan’s IHI Corp.
The Global Combat Air Program is the latest high-profile example of allied countries working together on an ad hoc basis to develop defense equipment.
Such moves proved controversial last year when the United States snagged a lucrative contract to supply submarines from France to Australia and formed a new US-UK-Australia Pacific alliance called AUKUS.
After a meeting between US and Australian ministers this week in Washington, the two countries said they would welcome Japanese troops in three-way rotations and pledged a united front amid China’s rapid military advances.
© Agence France-Presse