Britain said on Monday it was collaborating with Japan and existing partner Italy on its next-generation fighter jet programme, with a joint concept analysis expected to lead to decisions on deeper partnerships by the end of the year.
Reuters on Thursday reported that Britain and Japan were close to an agreement to merge their next-generation Tempest and F-X fighter jet programmes, with the two countries aiming for a deal on a new joint project by year-end.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his government was backing aviation and technology.
“I am a passionate believer in the potential of our burgeoning partnership, not just with Italy, but with Japan,” he said at the opening of the Farnborough Airshow.
Britain and its lead defence partner BAE Systems said a Tempest demonstrator would fly within the next five years, becoming the country’s first combat air demonstrator since the Typhoon nearly 40 years ago.
It will be a piloted supersonic aircraft testing a range of new technologies including integration of stealth-compatible features, BAE said at the show.
Britain wants the new fighter to be in service by 2035 and, following its departure from the European Union, is pursuing a programme separate from a Franco-German-Spanish plan.
The joint concept analysis with Japan and Italy will explore potential partnership options with the UK’s Future Combat Air project, Britain said, with decisions expected by the end of the year.
Like the UK, both Japan and Italy operate F-35 fighter jets and the nations have undertaken joint exercises together.
A combination of Japan’s F-X programme, led by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), and Tempest would be the first time Tokyo has sought a non-U.S. partner for a large military programme and would deepen security ties between the two close U.S. allies.
U.S. defence group Lockheed Martin Corp had been expected to help MHI build the F-X, which Japan wants to deploy in the 2030s to counter advanced fighters from China.
Tempest is one of two European initiatives for the next generation of air power alongside the Franco-German-Spanish Future Combat Air System, currently mired in divisions between partners Airbus and Dassault Aviation.
Berthon said Tempest had a “very aggressive” timeline to meet and so was focused on a small range of partners.
In reference to the rival European scheme, he said he recognised the “complexities that they’re grappling with”.
“I think we have a really solid foundation and we’re open to conversations (with other partners) as time goes by,” he said.
Britain and Sweden have also signed a memorandum of understanding to work on joint combat air development and acquisition.