UK, Japan Set to Merge Fighter Jet Programmes

Britain and Japan are about to finalize agreement to merge their Tempest and F-X fighter jet programmes. The two countries aim to establish a new joint project by the end of the year. If completed, it will be the first time Japan makes a partnership with a non-U.S. state for a large military programme. It will also be the first major collaboration between Tokyo and London. The project, which is expected to cost tens of billions of dollars, will be an equal partnership between Japan and Britain.

Japan’s F-X programme has been managed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), while Britain’s Tempest is led by BAE Systems. The main aim for the two sides is to build a common fighter jet, that may have small differences in design for each country.

Under the agreement, Britain could handle exports in Europe, while Japan would take care of the Asian market.

Collaboration would spread development costs, while exporting would increase production lots and reduce the price per plane, helping both countries stretch their defence budgets.

The joint programme would represent a close partnership between two close U.S. allies. The UK has been looking for a bigger military involvement in the Indo-Pacific, while Tokyo looks to expand defense cooperation beyond Washington.

Japan also has been trying to strengthen its military power to counter China. Japan’s defense policy has taken on new urgency amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The switch to a European partner comes as Japan’s defence spending rises, with the budget expected to double over the coming decade as Prime Minister Kishida sticks with his predecessor Abe’s national security agenda.

Japan’s defense ministry said in a statement that they would like to decide how they can cooperate by the end of this year.

Britain plans to give an update on Tempest at next week’s Farnborough Airshow, but details on the update have not been revealed.

Japan’s partnership with Britain is a chance for BAE and other European Tempest partners, including Rolls-Royce, missile maker MBDA and Italian defence group Leonardo to venture into a growing market long-dominated by U.S. companies.

Defense cooperation between the UK and Japan has deepened in recent years with JNAAM missile project, sensor work and a deal to develop an engine demonstrator; but none of those are as large as the potential fighter jet programme.

Japan’s MHI developed its F-2 fighter jointly with U.S. defense major Lockheed Martin, which had also been expected to help the company build the F-X. Japan has been scrambling to deploy new generation jets in the 2030s to counter advanced fighters from China.

The programme cost of developing the F-X is estimated by the Japan’s defence ministry at around $40 billion, $700 million of which has been allocated this year.

The BAE-led Tempest project to field a replacement for the European Typhoon combat jet has a government budget of 2 billion pounds ($2.38 billion) until 2025, when full development is slated to start.

Japanese companies, which were banned from exporting weapons overseas until 2014, will have a chance with the partnership to access foreign markets and European technology.

The fighter will still need some U.S. components, such as for communications and data links, to ensure interoperability with U.S. forces.

As talks in Tokyo and London push ahead, it is still unclear what role, if any, the Swedish and Italian governments will have in the new project after agreeing to collaborate on Tempest.

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