The UK, Italy, and Japan have jointly announced the formation of the Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP) partnership to develop a next generation combat aircraft.
The establishment of GCAP will see the UK’s Project Tempest merged with Japan’s F-X future fighter program, with equal partnerships of BAE Systems, Italy’s Leonardo, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI). The inclusion of MHI marks the first time Japan has participated in a major defence program with a country other than the US.
Other industry partners will include Rolls-Royce, MBDA UK, IHI Corp, Mitsubishi Electric, Avio Aero, and Elettronica. BAE Systems and MHI will jointly develop the airframe, Rolls-Royce and IHI will develop the engines, and Leonardo UK and Mitsubishi Electric are working on the aircraft’s radar.
“The security of the United Kingdom, both today and for future generations, will always be of paramount importance to this Government,” British PM Rishi Sunak said in a 9 December statement. “That’s why we need to stay at the cutting-edge of advancements in defence technology – outpacing and out-manoeuvring those who seek to do us harm.
UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace added, “This international partnership with Italy and Japan to create and design the next-generation of Combat Aircraft, represents the best collaboration of cutting edge defence technology and expertise shared across our nations, providing highly skilled jobs across the sector and long-term security for Britain and our allies.”
An RAF release said, “The UK, Italy, and Japan will now work intensively to establish the core platform concept and set up the structures needed to deliver this massive defence project, ready to launch the development phase in 2024. Ahead of the development phase, partners will also agree the cost-sharing arrangements based on a joint assessment of costs and national budgets.”
The GCAP team aims to have developed its combat aircraft for service entry by 2035. All three countries are currently introducing Lockheed Martin F-35A/Bs into service, so the new aircraft will be developed with a high degree of integration with the F-35 in mind. For the UK and Italy, the new aircraft will replace the Eurofighter Typhoon, while Japan will replace its Mitsubishi F-2s and upgraded F-15Js.
GCAP will be one of three major next-generation combat aircraft programs, the others being the US Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) effort, and the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) joint venture between France, Germany, and Spain. All of these combat aircraft are likely to be elements of wider systems that will include offboard sensors and communications nodes, and uncrewed combat air systems.