LONDON — The U.K., Japan and Italy are launching a joint program to develop sixth-generation fighter jets, expected to dominate the skies in the thirties.
The Global Combat Air Programme, announced Friday, will see the three nations cooperating as equal partners to develop war aircraft with advanced sensors, and capable of flying unmanned and carrying hypersonic weapons longer into the future.
It will bring together BAE Systems Plc for the U.K., Mitsubishi Heavy Industries for Japan and Leonardo SpA for Italy.
The resulting warplanes — known as Tempest jets in the U.K. and F-X in Japan — will replace the Royal Air Force Typhoon jets from 2035, and compete with those being developed by allies such as the U.S., and a joint initiative by France, Germany and Spain.
But the British government aims that all three sets of jets will be interoperable, allowing Britain and its allies to fight together in a future conflict if needed. London also expects other allies to buy into GCAP soon and is eyeing Sweden in particular.
This initiative represents the first time Japan has engaged in a major defense acquisition program with European partners rather than with the U.S.
The announcement comes as U.K. officials work on an update of the government’s 2021 Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, which foresees a tilt toward the Indo-Pacific region amid growing Chinese influence in the region.
During a visit to the RAF Coningsby base Friday, Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the partnership shows “that the security of the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific regions are indivisible.”
The three participating governments must still agree how the program’s costs will be shared, but the U.K. has already committed £2 billion to the development of its first sixth-generation warplane over the next three years. The main development phase of the program is set to launch in 2025.