Italy, Japan and UK to merge projects for new fighter jet by 2035

Plan announced against the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and rising geopolitical tensions in the Asia Pacific.

An artist's perspective on the new fighter jet that Italy, Japan and the UK are developing
The new fighter jet - currently known as Tempest - is due for completion by 2035 [British Prime Ministers Office /Handout via AFP]

Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom have announced a plan to merge their fighter jet development projects in a partnership that marks Japan’s first major industrial defence collaboration beyond the United States since World War Two.

The deal aims to put an advanced front-line fighter aircraft into operation by 2035, by combining the UK-led Future Combat Air System project, also known as Tempest, with Japan’s F-X programme, the three countries said in a joint statement on Friday.

The collaboration will be called the Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP).

“We are committed to upholding the rules-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 countries’ three leaders said in the statement.

The agreement comes as China ramps up military activity around Taiwan – which it claims as its own – and in the disputed South China Sea where Beijing has sought to bolster its expansive claims with military installations on artificial islands it has built.

Northeast Asia is also grappling with North Korea, which has conducted an unprecedented number of missile launches this year amid concerns it may soon test a nuclear weapon.

Japan, which has a pacifist constitution, has already announced that it expects to double its defence spending over the next five years to about 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

The statement said the project had been designed with “our allies and partners at its very heart” and with “future interoperability” in the United States, Europe, NATO and the Asia Pacific.

“We share ambition for this aircraft to be the centrepiece of a wider combat air system that will function across multiple domains,” the statement said.

The US, which has pledged to defend all three countries through its NATO membership and a separate security pact with Japan, also welcomed the Europe-Japan agreement.

“The United States supports Japan’s security and defence cooperation with likeminded allies and partners, including with the United Kingdom and Italy,” the US Department of Defense said in a joint statement with Japan’s Ministry of Defence.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies