It would be the first time Japan has sought a non-US partner for a major military program and the first major Tokyo-London collaboration that goes beyond what was expected when industrial negotiations began five years ago.
“This would be an equal partnership between Japan and the UK,” said one of the sources with knowledge of the plan. It will cost tens of thousands of billions of dollars, he added.
The goal of combining Japan’s currency program, led by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), before December with Britain’s Tempest, administered by BAE Systems PLC, has not yet been reported.
The sources asked to remain anonymous as they are not allowed to speak to the media.
“The most important thing we are aiming for is to build a common jet, which may have small differences in design for each country,” said another source.
Britain could account for exports in Europe, while Japan could account for the Asian market, said another of the three sources.
Cooperation would spread development costs, while exports would increase production volumes and lower prices per capita. aircraft, which would help both countries stretch their defense budgets.
This would mean a deepening of security ties between the two closest US allies. London assumes a major military role in Asia in a strategic “slope” towards the Indo-Pacific region, and Tokyo expands defense cooperation to outside Washington.
Japan’s policy, launched by the late former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to strengthen Tokyo’s hand against neighboring China, has gained a new pressing force following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow describes as a “special operation”.
The shift to a European partner comes at a time when Japan’s defense spending is skyrocketing, with a budget expected to double over the next decade as Prime Minister Fumio Kishida sticks to Abe’s national security agenda and fulfills an election promise to increase the military needs of the military. to increase spending “significantly”.
“We want to decide before the end of this year how we can work together and we are considering more options,” the Japanese Defense Ministry said.
The British Ministry of Defense did not immediately comment. The country’s chief of air force, Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston, told a conference on Thursday that the UK is “exploring partnership opportunities and sharing our technological expertise with a number of international partners, including Japan and Italy”.
MHI and BAE declined to comment. Britain plans to give an update on Tempest at next week’s Farnborough Airshow, another source said without elaborating.
OPENING FOR EUROPE
Japan’s partnership with the UK is an opportunity for BAE and other European Tempest companies, such as Rolls-Royce, missile builder MBDA and Italian defense group Leonardo, to take advantage of a growing market that has long been dominated by US companies.
Efforts to merge the fighter jet projects follow in recent years the deepening of cooperation between the UK and Japan, from the JNAAM missile project to sensor work and an agreement to develop an engine demonstration model.
“You can see the direction of the journey,” said Douglas Barrie, senior fellow in military aerospace at the IISS think tank.
It’s more than 20 years since MHI, the creator of the World War II Zero fighter jet, and the US defense conglomerate Lockheed Martin Corp. built the Japanese F-2 fighter, a short-wing derived from the F-16. Fighting Falcon.
Lockheed, which later developed the F-35 stealth aircraft, was also expected to help MHI build the FX, an F-2 replacement that Japan plans to deploy in the 2030s to counter advanced fighter jets from China.
The program’s cost of developing the currency is estimated by Japanese Defense Ministry officials at about $ 40 billion, of which $ 700 million has been allocated this year, making it a lucrative proposal for Japanese companies that lost out when Tokyo bought US equipment, including F- 35.
The BAE-led Tempest project, which is to market a replacement for Europe’s Typhoon fighter jets, has a government budget of £ 2 billion ($ 2.38 billion) until 2025, when full development is set to begin.
It is one of two European initiatives for the next generation of air forces together with the French-German-Spanish Future Combat Air System, which is currently shared between its partners Airbus and Dassault Aviation.
In 2018, Lockheed had proposed using an F-22 Raptor fuselage and F-35 parts for FX, but the interim partnership ended this year because US control over the sensitive technology meant Washington could say when and how Japan maintained its aircraft. . and upgraded, the sources said.
A Lockheed spokesman said questions about the program should be put to the Japanese government.
For Japanese companies, which were banned from exporting arms abroad until 2014, the partnership is an opportunity to access foreign markets and European technology with potentially fewer restrictions than those imposed by Washington.
Tempest “is a flexible construction that is suitable for multiple forms of collaboration,” said defense analyst Francis Tusa.
The fighter jet will still need some US components, such as communications and data connections, to ensure interoperability with US military forces.
As negotiations progress in Tokyo and London, it is still unclear what role the Swedish and Italian governments will play in the new project after agreeing to work together on Tempest.