Japan, Britain and Italy are combining their next-generation jet fighter projects in a ground-breaking partnership that is Japan's first major industrial defense collaboration outside the United States since World War II.
The deal aims to put an advanced front-line fighter into operational by 2035 by combining the British-led Future Combat Air System project, also known as Tempest, with Japan's F-X program in a venture called the Global Combat Air Programme GCAP, the three countries said in a statement on Friday.
The agreement could help Japan counter the growing military might of its bigger neighbor and give Britain a greater security role in a region that is a key driver of global economic growth, despite Russia's invasion of Ukraine and intensifying Chinese military activity around Japan and Taiwan.
In a joint leaders statement, the three countries stated that they 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.
Japan will announce a military build up plan that will double defense spending over the next five years due to the deteriorating regional security, and it expects to double defense spending to about 2% of gross domestic product over the next five years.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said his country needed to stay at the cutting edge of defence technology.
Sunak, visiting an air force base in eastern England, said that it adds to the country's economy and adds billions to our economy and supports tens of thousands of jobs. It is also good for our international reputation, according to Japan's Ministry of Defence, Britain s BAE Systems PLC, Japan s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Italy s Leonardo will lead the design of the aircraft, which will have advanced digital capabilities in artificial intelligence and cyber warfare.
The ministry said that European missile maker MBDA will work on the engine, along with avionics manufacturer Mitsubishi Electric Corp Rolls-Royce PLC, IHI Corp and Avio Aero.
The three countries have yet to work out some details of how the project will proceed, including work shares and where the development will take place.
Britain wants Japan to improve how it gives security clearances to contractors who work on the aircraft, sources with knowledge of the discussions told Reuters.
Other countries could join the project, Britain said, adding that the fighter, which will replace its Typhoon warplanes and complement its F-35 Lightning fleet, will be compatible with fighters flown by other North Atlantic Treaty Organization NATO partners.
The plan was confirmed days after companies in France, Germany and Spain secured the next phase of a rival initiative to build a next-generation fighter that could be in operation from 2040.
Woodburn said it was a possibility that the British, Japanese and Italian project could join the rival European project in the future.
I wouldn't rule out one thing or another. These are political decisions at the end of the day, he said.
The joint Europe-Japan agreement was welcomed by the United States, which pledges to defend all three countries through its membership of NATO and a separate security pact with Japan.
The United States supports Japan's security and defense cooperation with likeminded allies and partners, including the United Kingdom and Italy, in a joint statement with Japan's Ministry of Defense.
Japan had initially considered building its next fighter with help from U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp, which had proposed an aircraft that combined the F-22 airframe with the flight systems from the F-35 fighter.