After months of talks, the United Kingdom and Japan have reached an agreement for the collaboration on a future fighter aircraft engine demonstrator, as well further combat air technologies.
Work on the joint engine demonstrator will kickstart early next year, with the UK investing an initial £30 million (approx. US$39.9M) in planning, digital designs and manufacturing developments, the UK defense ministry said.
This work will be led by industry from the two countries, including Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) and IHI in Japan, and Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems in the UK.
A further £200 million of UK funding is expected to go towards developing a full-scale demonstrator power system as part of the Tempest program.
In July this year, the UK MoD signed a contract worth £250 million with the industry team in charge of developing the fighter that will drive the program’s concept and assessment phase forward.
Over the next four years, the UK is investing more than £2 billion into its endeavor to design the Future Combat Air System.
In parallel, through its F-X program, Japan is looking to develop a future fighter aircraft to a similar timescale to replace the F-2 aircraft. Japan is already working with Lockheed Martin as an outside contributor to the F-X program that is led by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) as prime contractor.
“Strengthening our partnerships in the Indo-Pacific is a strategic priority and this commitment with Japan, one of our closest security partners in Asia, is a clear example of that,” UK defense secretary Ben Wallace said.
“Designing a brand-new combat air system with a fighter aircraft at its heart is a highly ambitious project so working with like-minded nations is vital. Building on the technological and industrial strengths of our two countries, we will be exploring a wide-ranging partnership across next-generation combat air technologies.”
Having explored opportunities with Japan on future combat air systems for some time, alongside the UK’s growing partnership with European nations, discussions accelerated following a meeting between UK defense secretary Ben Wallace and Japan’s defense minister Nobuo Kishi in Tokyo in the summer.
It also follows the visit of Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth to Japan in September, as part of the ship’s maiden operational deployment. Reports from earlier in the year said the UK planned to carry out maintenance work on its F-35B short take-off and vertical landing fighter jets together with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries while in Japan. Both countries operate the Lockheed Martin-built F-35 fifth-generation stealth fighter.
For the UK, international partnership remains at the heart of its approach to combat air, as set out in the Combat Air Strategy published in 2018.
“This initiative with Japan is a win-win opportunity to develop world-beating power technologies together. Investing and working together with Japan to demonstrate highly advanced engine systems will boost our national industries and design a cutting-edge military capability,” UK Director Future Combat Air, Richard Berthon, said.
The UK and Japan have also agreed a memorandum of cooperation which enables both nations to pursue joint technologies. Together, they will explore the feasibility of further sub-systems collaboration throughout 2022. In the UK, this work will be undertaken by the Team Tempest industry partners: BAE Systems, Leonardo UK, MBDA UK and Rolls-Royce.
“Across Rolls-Royce we have a longstanding and valued relationship with our customers and industry partners in Japan. The industry teams in both UK and Japan bring complementary technologies that will drive cleaner, next generation power and propulsion for both nations future fighter requirements,” Alex Zino, director of business development and future programs at Rolls-Royce, said.
This news follows plans announced in the UK’s Defence Command Paper, published in March 2021, to deepen and expand defense industrial relationships in the Indo-Pacific region, including with Japan.
What is more, the UK MOD is also supporting Japan in the delivery of their Joint New Air-to-Air Missile (JNAAM) program.