Japan, UK and Italy announce jet fighter partnership

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By Euronews  with Reuters, AP
Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston, left and Station Commander for RAF Coningsby Billy Cooper walk with UK PM Rishi Sunak during his visit to RAF Coningsby. Friday, 9 Dec. 2022.
Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston, left and Station Commander for RAF Coningsby Billy Cooper walk with UK PM Rishi Sunak during his visit to RAF Coningsby. Friday, 9 Dec. 2022.   -   Copyright  Joe Giddens/WPA Rota

Japan, Italy and the UK are bringing their next-generation jet fighter projects together in a ground-breaking partnership, representing Japan’s first major industrial defence collaboration beyond its traditional ally, the United States, since World War Two.

The nations will merge their current plans for the development of next-generation planes — the F-X and Britain’s Tempest, a successor to the Eurofighter Typhoon — to put the new combat aircraft into operation in 2035, a venture they called the Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP) in a joint statement released on Friday.

"We are committed to upholding the rules-based, free and open international order, which is more important than ever at a time when these principles are contested, and threats and aggression are increasing," the three countries said.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak separately said his country needed to stay at the cutting edge of defence technology and that the deal would benefit its global standing.

"It means we can keep the country safe from the new threats that we face, it also adds billions to our economy and supports tens of thousands of jobs across the country," Sunak said of the deal while visiting an air force base in Lincolnshire, eastern England. "It’s also good for our international reputation."

Against the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China's growing assertiveness around Japan and Taiwan, the agreement may help Japan counter the growing military might of its bigger neighbour and give Britain a more significant presence in the Indo-Pacific region, one of the key drivers of global economic growth.

The partnership's announcement came four days after Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida set spending targets aimed at developing the country's military capability, including a major boost in defence spending over the next five years. To meet the five-year spending total of 43 trillion yen (€300 billion), the Japanese government will need an extra 4 trillion yen (€28 billion) in annual defence expenditure, a quarter of which will be funded through tax increases.

Britain’s BAE Systems PLC, Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Italy’s Leonardo will lead the aircraft's design, which Japan's Ministry of Defence said will have advanced digital capabilities in artificial intelligence and cyber warfare.

European missile maker MBDA will also join the project, along with avionics manufacturer Mitsubishi Electric Corp. Rolls-Royce PLC, IHI Corp and Avio Aero who will work on the engine, the ministry further reported.

The three countries, however, have yet to iron out some details of how the project will proceed, including work shares and where the development will take place.

The chief executive of BAE Systems (BAES.L) said that Japan, Britain and Italy's fighter jet project has enough partners to proceed as it is, but he did not rule out a future collaboration with a rival French, German and Spanish fighter jet project.

The US, which has promised to defend all three countries through its NATO membership and a separate security pact with Japan, also welcomed the joint Europe-Japan agreement.