Artist's impression of what the final design could look like for the next-generation of fighter jets developed under the Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP)

UK, Italy and Japan join forces to build next-generation fighter jets

Image credit: MBDA

The international Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP) aims to develop uncrewed combat aircraft with advanced sensors, cutting-edge weapons and innovative data systems.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is due to visit an RAF base today (Friday December 9) to launch the first major phase of the programme, which aims to develop the next generation of combat aircraft in collaboration with Italy and Japan. 

Downing Street is hoping that the jets, called Tempest in the UK, will take to the skies by 2035 and serve as a successor to the RAF Typhoon.

By leveraging new technologies such as advanced sensors and innovative data systems, the aircraft of the future are set to ensure the UK and allies are “outpacing and out-manoeuvring those who seek to do us harm”, Sunak said. 

Fighter jet over UK Parliament

Artist impression of a fighter jet over UK Parliament

Image credit: PA Media

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.

The collaborative nature of the project is also targeted at ensuring the RAF remains interoperable with the UK's closest partners, as well as other Nato partners' fighter jets. 

"The security of the United Kingdom, both today and for future generations, will always be of paramount importance to this government," Sunak said, ahead of his visit to  RAF Coningsby, in Lincolnshire. "That’s why we need to stay at the cutting-edge of advancements in defence technology. 

"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."

Artist impression of next-generation fighter jet

Artist impression of next-generation fighter jet

Image credit: PA Media

The UK, Italy and Japan will now work intensively to establish the core platform concept and set up the structures needed to deliver this massive defence project, ready to launch the development phase in 2025.

Ahead of the development phase, partners will also agree the cost-sharing arrangements based on a joint assessment of costs and national budgets.

The new jet, which will replace the current Typhoon aircraft, is expected to be able to fly faster than the speed of sound and have the capability of firing hypersonic weapons in the future.

In response to the announcement, defence secretary Ben Wallace said: “This international partnership with Italy and Japan to create and design the next generation of combat aircraft represents the best collaboration of cutting-edge defence technology and expertise shared across our nations, providing highly skilled jobs across the sector and long-term security for Britain and our allies.”

Fighter jet over Colosseum

Artist impression of a fighter jet over the Colosseum / PA Media

Image credit: PA Media

John Healey, Labour’s shadow defence secretary, said his party backed the partnership. “Ministers must make clear how this fits with wider plans for the RAF’s future, including how they will prevent delays in fast-jet pilot training and how many F-35 fighters they plan to purchase,” he said.

The CGAP programme is a response to military bosses’ fears that air dominance is being threatened.

The partnership is set to merge the UK and Italy’s future combat air system (FCAS) projects with the Japanese F-X programme. In the future, ministers hope that other countries may buy into GCAP. 

Last year, a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (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.

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Defence announced that the first flying combat air demonstrator in a generation - designed and developed in the UK - would take off in 2035, as part of the Tempest programme. 

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles