Japan and the UK have decided to collaborate on next-generation fighter jets, pooling technologies and resources to get value for money. Japan’s FX program and the UK’s Tempest, both slated to fly in the early 2030s, will be the world’s first sixth-generation fighters.
So far, this co-development includes jet engines and sensors for next-generation fighters.
The UK Ministry of Defense announced the partnership last year. The UK is investing the equivalent of $40 million in the joint jet engine effort. The country has targeted this figure pending digital designs, manufacturing innovation development and planning. Another equivalent of 267 million dollars will go to the development of a prototype.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) and Ishikawajima Heavy Industries (IHI) will lead the Japanese contribution to the program. On the UK side, Rolls Royce and BAE Systems are working on the joint engine project.
Both countries could apply the new engine to their ongoing new warplane plan. For Japan, it’s the FX project. The plan is for the new fighter to slowly replace the 90 Mitsubishi F-2s that are currently in service with the Japan Air Self-Defense Force. The UK is currently developing its Future Combat Air System commonly referred to as the Tempest aircraft. The agreement lays the foundation for future cooperation on their respective projects, particularly in the development of applicable radars and other advanced systems. The door is also left open, according to the media, to a collaboration with Italy or other countries.
The FX is developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries with support from Lockheed Martin. Conversely, BAE Systems, together with MBDA UK, Rolls-Royce and Leonardo UK are developing the Tempest.
“Strengthening our partnerships in the Indo-Pacific is a strategic priority,” UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said after the talks, “and this engagement with Japan, one of our closest security in Asia, is a clear example of this.”
The deal builds on a number of important defense agreements the UK has concluded in the Indo-Pacific in recent years. The UK is also participating in the Japanese JNAAM (Joint New Air-to-Air Missile) program which is currently under development. Most notably, the trilateral agreement to develop a nuclear submarine with Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom was announced last year. Additionally, last year the Queen Elizabeth Carrier Strike Group made a major visit to the Indo-Pacific to report on Royal Navy engagements in the region where the UK governs several island territories.
Indeed, the two countries consider that the development of their respective combat aircraft projects is important for their future defense strategies. Both countries currently operate the American-designed F-35, which is a joint strike fighter, while their sixth-generation plans seek to develop warplanes focused more on achieving air superiority in a future conflict. .
“Strengthening the UK is clearly about building partnerships in the Indo-Pacific. Its engagement with Japan to build a new combat air system with a fighter jet at its heart will build on the technological and industrial strengths of both countries. Japan has made superb progress on technologies that can complement our own advanced skills,” said Jude D’Alesio, an independent British defense analyst.
Moreover, the agreement of the two countries on the co-development of the fighter engine and the aircraft seems surprising. For Japan, the move to the UK could prove beneficial as the UK government has given Japan more leeway to upgrade and modify the new aircraft. In contrast, the United States chooses to hide most of its critical aircraft technology in a black box, preventing other nations, including allies, from trying to reverse engineer things like radars and sensor components. Additionally, it made it difficult for Tokyo and Washington to coordinate their efforts on the FX project.
The joint engine project will be carried out in phases following a joint engine development feasibility study.
This story was provided to Newsweek by Zenger News.