Japan strengthens ties with its Western allies, with Britain and Italy finally making progress after months of talks regarding its next-generation combat jet project cooperation on Friday, December 9. This marks Japan’s first major industrial defense collaboration outside the United States since World War II, serving as a significant bridge to further deepen the relations between Europe and Asia.
Reuters reported in July that after five long years of dialogue, London and Tokyo agreed to merge their next-generation jet fighter programs, Britain’s Future Combat Air System, known as Tempest, and Japan’s F-X venture dubbed as the Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP).
With tensions on the rise in Asia, Japan hopes the project will help boost its military capability and defend itself against its hostile neighbors, while Britain aims to take on a bigger role as a security ally in the region. Regional stability equals global economic growth, the key factor the latter aims to maintain.
“We are committed to upholding the rule-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,” the three nations said in a joint statement.
Among the many factors that pushed the two nations to collaborate is to share development costs that would lessen both sides’ defense spending. And again, this would enable Britain to increase its presence in Asia and a chance for Japan to expand partnerships beyond the United States.
Great Britain, Italy and Japan are already working on the creation of a new fighter "Tempest"
It is planned that it will be ready already in the 2030s and will quickly replace the multi-purpose fighter of the fourth generation pic.twitter.com/FB6em8rTR8
— 🇺🇦War in Ukraine🇺🇦 (@Rinegati) December 10, 2022
Britain’s Next-Gen Tempest x Japan’s F-X jet fighters
Britain’s Tempest is a proposed sixth-generation jet fighter developed by BAE Systems in 2015 for the country’s Royal Air Force (RAF) intended to replace its current twin-engine Eurofighter Typhoon. Italy and Sweden joined the collaboration, signing a Memorandum of Understanding in 2020, while Japan, led by Mitshubishi Heavy Industries, has been in talks with the UK on a potential joint venture of developing engine and radar demonstrators for the future stealth jet.
The Duxford Battle of Britain Air Show took place over the weekend, contending with some tough weather conditions. However, our ‘man on the ground’ managed to grab these photos of the new Tempest, which was recently announced at Farnborough. #DuxfordAirShows pic.twitter.com/C6lG428Sfi
— Airfix (@Airfix) September 25, 2018
According to its initial design, the Tempest will incorporate several sophisticated techs, including deep learning artificial intelligence, autonomous operation, swarming unmanned drones, and arming the aircraft with direct-energy and hypersonic weapons, to name a few. The development will not be exclusive to BAE System, as it will also involve Rolls-Royce, who will provide power and propulsion; Italian-owned Leonardo S.p.A. for the aircraft’s sensors, electronics, and avionics; missile maker MBDA, responsible for the weaponry; and the RAF.
With the addition of Japan’s Mitsubishi, the venerable engineering firm will boost the combat air system design of the aircraft using AI that can be adapted for cyber warfare alongside BAE and Leonardo.
Like the Tempest, Mitsubishi F-X (unofficial nickname “F-3”) is Japan’s sixth-generation stealth fighter domestically developed to replace its fleet of F-2, a multirole fighter co-developed by Lockheed Martin more than two decades ago.
The F-X program began way earlier than the Tempest circa 1997, following America’s ban on exporting its F-22 Raptors. Unable to acquire stealth tactical aircraft, Japan initiated an effort to develop indigenous fighter jets to replace its aging fleet. The program made significant progress throughout the year, but more viable has yet to come out that is deemed to replace its F-2 fighters.
By the mid-to-late 2010s, Japan sought joint-development partnerships, sending proposals to the US and UK. Its previous co-developer, Lockheed Martin, responded to the call and proposed using its F-22 Raptor airframe and some parts of the F-35 for the F-X. However, tentative collaboration talks ended this year due to Washington’s gatekeeping to its sensitive technology embedded in these American-made aircraft. Whereas the Tempest has been more adaptable and less restrictive than those imposed by the US.
If all goes to plan, the merged next-generation combat fighters of Britain, Japan, and Italy will see the light of day sometime between 2025 and the mid-2030s.
Japan to Urgently Increase Defense Spending by 2027
Earlier this month, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida requested his Cabinet to urgently increase the country’s defense budget to two percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in five years to ensure Tokyo’s capability to keep up with what it sees as deteriorating regional security.
Talks to expand the country’s defense spending first transpired in June amid the ominous threats that Russia might use nuclear weapons against Ukraine and has been brought up again months later due to the increasing military assertiveness of China in the region and North Korea’s impending revival of its nuclear program.
During the recent discussion, Kishida asked Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki and Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada to secure additional funding that will enable the country to cover large acquisitions that will bolster counter-strike capabilities in the event of an attack. According to Reuters, Japan is looking to set aside up to 43 trillion yen ($316 billion) beginning in the next fiscal year. The differences between the minister offices of Suzuki and Hamada are currently in progress. A compromised plan is, nonetheless, expected to be ready by the end of this year, including Tokyo’s defense spending, its long-term diplomacy, and security policy guidelines.