Continuing their joint venture to replace the Japanese F-2 and British/Italian Eurofighters, the Defense Ministers of the three countries are in talks to meet in Tokyo sometime in late December.
The three agreed to a co-development deal last December to develop the Global Combat Air Program (GCAP), which hopes to produce next-generation fighter aircraft by 2035. The three countries will seek a proposal that meets all sides’ demands on range, size, weapons systems, stealth performance, and other specifications.
According to sources familiar with the topic, British Defense Minister Grant Shapps, Japanese Defense Minister Minoru Kihara, and Italian Defense Minister Guido Crosetto will most likely establish a coordinating body for developing the aircraft and will keep the deployment hopeful for 2035, with plans finalized by 2027.
This coordinating body will likely be headquartered in the United Kingdom and oversee work between defense giants from each of the three nations: BAE Systems from the UK, Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., and the Italian Leonardo S.p.A.
The current development budget estimate is $30.2 billion.
Japanese, Italian, and British Cooperation:
A joint statement released in 2022 by the three nations highlighted the necessity and benefits of such a venture, saying, “It will deepen our defense cooperation, science and technology collaboration, integrated supply chains, and further strengthen our defense industrial base.”
“This program will deliver wider economic and industrial benefits, supporting jobs and livelihoods across Japan, Italy, and the UK,” the statement continues.
A 2021 analysis by PricewaterhouseCoopers predicted the new program could support about 21,000 jobs a year by 2050 and contribute an estimated $32.1 billion (£26.2 billion) to the economy.
The United States released their own statement in coordination with their three allies, reaffirming their shared interests and giving their approval for the new cooperative development plan.
“The United States supports Japan’s security and defense cooperation with likeminded allies and partners, including with the United Kingdom and Italy—two close partners of both of our countries—on the development of its next fighter aircraft,” the US statement read.
Japan’s Break Abroad:
As it weighed partners for the development of this historic next-generation fighter jet, Tokyo chose in 2020 to receive technical assistance from Lockheed Martin but later joined with the United Kingdom and Italy instead. This marked a significant and rare break from Japan’s history of favoring US partners for joint defense programs.
Japan’s Self-Defense Forces already use Lockheed’s F-35 fighters. But many of the stealth technicalities are kept classified from the Japanese military, limiting its ability to repair the jets at home, causing a reliance on US supply chains, and spurring Japanese desire for their own aircraft.
Japan, Italy, and the UK have provided assurance that the aircraft will be fully integrated into existing NATO and US-aligned doctrine and systems. Their statement read, “Future interoperability with the United States, with NATO, and with our partners across Europe, the Indo-Pacific, and globally – is reflected in the name we have chosen for our program. This concept will be at the center of its development.”
Japan’s Break at Home:
Japan’s Constitution centers itself around pacifism, even limiting the availability of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces to carry out offensive operations and sell military hardware for offensive operations. However, despite this, recent developments with North Korea and the rising tensions in the South China Sea have spurred Japan towards accepting the largest military budget in years.
That budget was then forced to begin reconsiderations as the Japanese economy falters and the yen hits a low point compared to the US dollar. This significant downtrend against the US dollar has the USD/JPY exchange rate surging to 152, the highest it’s been in 30 years. This issue has forced Japanese policymakers, headed by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, to rethink their military spending.
Kishida has also made moves to bypass or altogether remove restrictions on defense exports and military programs that would otherwise be hindered by the pacifist stance.
The Kishida cabinet will have to seek a Diet (Japan’s governing legislature) approval of the plans to establish and run the coordinating body with Italy and the UK. Therefore, it is expected that, in conjunction with Japan’s defense budget already having been expanded, this collaborative endeavor’s spending for the development of the next-generation fighter is poised to undergo a fierce Dietary debate.