Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP)
Defense ministers of Japan, Britain and Italy confirmed their close cooperation on an agreed joint project to develop a next-generation fighter jet. Japanese Defense Minister Hamada Yasukazu met British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Italian Defence Minister Guido Crosetto in Tokyo on 15 March 2023. The three nations struck the fighter deal in December 2022. The new combat plane will replace the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force's F-2 fighter jets. Hamada said at the beginning of the one-hour talks that the joint project will become the foundation of broader cooperation by the three countries for many generations. He said the collaboration will also significantly contribute to boosting global security. Hamada said he wants to confirm unity among the three nations and their strong intent for the project.
The three ministers agreed in the meeting that their countries' governments and businesses will cooperate closely on the joint venture. Senior officials from Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Britain's BAE Systems and Italy's Leonardo also attended the meeting. The three firms will take part in the development project. Japan's defense ministry plans to deploy the new fighter aircraft by around 2035.
The UK, Japan and Italy joined forces at DSEI Japan to showcase the new Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP) publicly for the first time since it was announced. Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, has been in Tokyo to view some of the ground-breaking technology that is driving this unique programme and meeting with his Italian and Japanese counterparts. On display at DSEI Japan was the high-tech GCAP stand, staffed by personnel from the three partnering countries. Attendees were able to see a new 3-metre model of the latest aircraft design and industry partners brought GCAP to life with a cockpit demonstrator and immersive simulators.
Following a joint announcement made by the Prime Ministers of the UK, Italy and Japan in December 2022, GCAP is aiming to deliver a next-generation combat aircraft by 2035. By combining forces the UK and partners will deliver the military capability needed to overcome fast evolving threats, share costs and ensure the RAF remains interoperable with close partners.
The project is also expected to drive economic growth and create high-skill jobs. In 2022, a report by PWC suggested the UK taking a core role in a combat air system could support an average of 21,000 jobs a year and contribute an estimated £26.2bn to the economy by 2050.
Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, said: "The Global Combat Air Programme is an enduring, strategic, partnership that will see the creation of a sixth generation fighter, to protect our skies for decades to come and bring together an alliance of nations, bridging Europe and the Pacific. It’s exciting to be working alongside Japan and Italy and see this project fuse the best of all our technologies, locking in a partnership of liberal and open democracies who believe in the rule of law." During the conference, industry partners made several collaboration agreements furthering the work of the Global Combat Air programme. They include:
- BAE Systems, MHI and Leonardo continue to work closely together on the next steps in the Global Combat Air Programme with a shared ambition for a joint industrial arrangement.
- Rolls-Royce, IHI and Avio Aero setting out the terms under which they will pool their expertise to design, manufacture and test a full-scale future combat engine demonstrator.
- Mitsubishi Electric (Japan) & Leonardo UK; & Leonardo and Elettronica (Italy) agreeing to form a special domain to develop advanced on-board electronics which will provide aircrew with information advantage and advanced self-protection capabilities.
The UK’s sovereign industry partners, under Team Tempest, will support the significant endeavour announced 09 December 2022 by the Governments of the UK, Japan and Italy, which will see the three nations build a truly international programme, with a shared ambition to develop a next generation fighter aircraft under a new Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP).
The joint announcement highlights the close government, military and industrial links between the nations and reinforces the UK’s international commitment to future combat air. The programme will build on the substantial progress already made in the UK by BAE Systems, Leonardo UK, MBDA UK, Rolls-Royce and the UK Ministry of Defence who have been working in partnership since 2018 as Team Tempest to research, evaluate and develop a host of next generation future combat air systems capabilities.
Rishi Sunak, UK Prime Minister, said "The security of the United Kingdom, both today and for future generations, will always be of paramount importance to this Government. 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. The international partnership we have announced today with Italy and Japan aims to do just that, underlining that the security of the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific regions are indivisible. The next-generation of combat aircraft we design will protect us and our allies around the world by harnessing the strength of our world-beating defence industry – creating jobs while saving lives."
Charles Woodburn, Chief Executive, BAE Systems, said "The launch of the Global Combat Air Programme firmly positions the UK, alongside Japan and Italy, as leaders in the design, development and production of next generation combat air capability. With our UK industry partners, we look forward to strengthening our ties with Japanese and Italian industries as we work together to deliver this programme of huge importance to our global defence and security. The agreement with Japan and Italy is fundamental to meeting the goals set out in the UK Combat Air Strategy and is set to create and sustain thousands of high value jobs and benefit hundreds of companies across the UK, contributing to long-term economic prosperity and safeguarding sovereign combat air capability for generations to come."
Mark Hamilton, Managing Director Electronics UK, Leonardo said "The emergence of a single international programme, backed by three Governments, represents a major point of maturity for our shared combat air vision and a strong vote of confidence in the readiness of industry to deliver the programme. At Leonardo, we are privileged to be a core part of this endeavour. The future aircraft’s integrated sensing, non-kinetic effects and integrated communications (ISANKE & ICS) will be at the heart of the system’s capability, ensuring that our Armed Forces can effectively respond to the threats of the future. We look forward to working with our International colleagues to deliver this critical capability."
Chris Allam, MBDA Executive Group Director Engineering and Managing Director UK said "Today’s announcement is a significant step in the internationalisation of the Combat Air System Programme which will drive a step change in future capability and help sustain and develop critical skills across the defence industry. MBDA was founded on the principle of nations working together to deliver sovereign capability, leveraging innovation and driving economic benefits. We have a proud history of collaboration with Italy and welcome the opportunity to strengthen our relationship with Japan. We will work with multi-national industrial partners to enable seamless integration, rapid evolution and effector networking to make any platform, any sensor, any effector a reality."
Alex Zino, Executive Vice President, Business Development and Future Programmes, Rolls-Royce Defence said "We welcome today’s announcement and the positive momentum we are building with our partners in Japan and Italy towards developing power and propulsion technology for the next generation fighter aircraft. In December 2021, we announced a target to jointly design, build and test an engine demonstrator. This work is progressing well and on track to deliver. Today’s announcement reinforces the strong and longstanding relationships we value with both Italy and Japan, and I look forward to us deepening that collaboration through this programme."
The UK’s combat air industry not only supports national defence and security, but the £6bn-a-year sector also delivers substantial economic and social value. The GCAP could secure or create thousands of UK jobs while keeping irreplaceable combat air engineering skills onshore for another generation. A report published last year by analysts at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) concluded that should the UK take a core role in a next generation fighter jet programme, it could expect to support an average of 21,000 jobs a year and contribution an estimated £26.2bn to the economy by 2050.
In the UK, around 2,500 people were already working on the programme as part of Team Tempest and wider industry. Beyond the Team Tempest partners, more than 580 organisations are already on contract across the UK, including 91 SMEs and 26 academic institutions. The Team Tempest partners have recruited more than 1,000 apprentices and graduates since the launch of the project in 2018, with young people nationwide inspired by the opportunity to be part of a once-in-a-generation combat air programme.
The UK industry partners have already generated strong working relationships with their counterparts in Italy and Japan, which will progress into the new joint development. These include IHI Corporation, Mitsubishi Electric and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Japan and Avio Aero, Elettronica and Leonardo in Italy.
It is expected that GCAP will generate long-term technological, industrial and social benefits for the three partner countries and inspire the next generation of engineering talent.
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