Eureka News Now —
The United Kingdom, Japan and Italy announced on Friday that they are joining forces to build a sixth-generation fighter jet that will rival or eclipse the best fighter jets currently being produced by China and Russia — and possibly even the United States, the main ally – of the trio.
“We announce the Global Combat Air Program (GCAP) – an ambitious undertaking to develop a next-generation combat aircraft by 2035,” British, Japanese and Italian leaders said in a joint statement.
The leaders’ statement did not mention China or Russia by name, but said the new fighter jet was needed because “threats and aggression are increasing” against the “rules-based, free and open international order.”
“Defending our democracy, economy and security and protecting regional stability are becoming increasingly important,” the leaders said.
In a separate statement, the UK government said development of the new fighter is expected to start in 2024 and fly by 2035.
It will showcase technologies from each of the three partners, the British statement said.
“The goal is for this to be a next-generation jet, enhanced through a network of capabilities such as unmanned aerial vehicles, advanced sensors, state-of-the-art weapons and innovative data systems,” it added.
The new jet is considered a replacement for the British Typhoon fighters and the Japanese F-2.
The new program sees the UK, Japan and Italy going their own way without the support of the US, the world’s leading fighter jet manufacturer.
All three countries are part of the United States’ fifth-generation F-35 stealth fighter program, under which all three will fly the F-35 and versions of the fighter will be assembled in Italy and Japan. The new jet is not expected to affect the F-35 program.
In a joint statement with the Japanese Ministry of Defense, the Pentagon supported the development of the new fighter jet.
“The United States supports Japan’s security and defense cooperation with like-minded allies and partners, including the United Kingdom and Italy – two close partners of our two countries – in the development of its next combat aircraft,” the US-Japan statement said.
Meanwhile, the statement between Britain, Japan and Italy said the new aircraft was designed to integrate with the defense programs of all their allies and partners.
“Future interoperability with the United States, with NATO, and with our partners across Europe, the Indo-Pacific, and globally — is reflected in the name we have chosen for our program. This concept will be at the heart of its development,” it said.
The leaders said the GCAP program will “support the sovereign capabilities of all three countries to design, deploy and enhance cutting-edge air combat capabilities.”
Critics say strict US export controls on military technology sometimes limit customers’ ability to customize planes like the F-35 to their specific needs.
The US also has a sixth-generation fighter jet — known as the Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program — in the works. It is intended to be the successor to the F-22, which, together with the F-35, is considered the best fighter jet in the world.
The NGAD program has similar aims to the joint plan between the UK, Japan and Italy.
“The Air Force intends for NGAD to replace the F-22 fighter jet beginning in 2030, possibly including a combination of manned and unmanned aircraft,” according to a US Congressional Research document.
But as of now, the US is pursuing the NGAD program alone.
British, Japanese and Italian leaders highlighted the benefits of working together.
“It will deepen our defense cooperation, science and technology cooperation, integrated supply chains, and further strengthen our defense industrial base,” the joint statement said.
The program is also intended to bring about an economic upswing.
“This program will deliver broader economic and industrial benefits, supporting jobs and livelihoods across Japan, Italy and the UK,” the statement said.
The UK statement says a 2021 analysis by PricewaterhouseCoopers predicts the new fighter jet program could support about 21,000 jobs a year by 2050 and contribute an estimated $32.1 billion (£26.2 billion) to the economy.
Meanwhile, China and Russia are also thought to be pursuing sixth-generation planes.
China and Russia are now flying fifth-generation fighter jets — Beijing’s J-20 and J-31 jets and Moscow’s Su-57.
But the US-designed F-35s are widely regarded as equal to or better than the Chinese or Russian planes.