Britain is on the brink of striking a landmark deal with Japan and Italy to get its Tempest fighter jet project off the ground, Express.co.uk understands. Insiders have suggested the three nations could sign off on an agreement as soon as next week in a development which significantly enhances the UK’s profile in Asia at a time when China is flexing its muscles in the region.
Reports of a team-up between London and Tokyo to make the state-of-the-art aircraft, which developers envisage would be equipped with laser and hypersonic weapons, a reality surfaced in July, and now insiders have indicated both parties are ready to go one stage further by merging Tempest with Japan’s F-X fighter programme.
If the reports are accurate, the move would be the first occasion on which Japan has joined forces with any nations other than the US to develop defence equipment.
An announcement is anticipated prior to Japan publishing its new national security plan in the middle of this month, which could see its defence budget doubled to roughly five percent of GDP by 2027.
The UK, Japan and Italy are expected to thrash out the details next year, with BAE Systems and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries leading the discussions.
Japan’s policy, which was pushed by the late former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has taken on new urgency following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking in July, Japan’s defence ministry said: “We would like to decide how we can cooperate by the end of this year, and are considering various possibilities.”
Also that month, Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston said Britain was “exploring partnering opportunities and sharing our technological expertise with a range of international partners, including Japan and Italy”.
Speaking in October, former Japanese defence minister Itsunori Onodera hinted that military export rules could be relaxed to enable the joint jet fighter could be exported.
An MoD spokesman said: “The UK is conducting joint concept analysis with close partners to understand areas of shared interest.”
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Then-defence secretary Gavin Williamson unveiled Britain’s Combat Air Strategy, which is centred on the fighter jet and which marked the creation of Team Tempest, made up of BAE Systems, Rolls Royce, Leonardo and missile developer MBDA, at the Farnborough Airshow in 2018.
He said: “We have been a world leader in the combat air sector for a century, with an enviable array of skills and technology, and this Strategy makes clear that we are determined to make sure it stays that way.
“It shows our allies that we are open to working together to protect the skies in an increasingly threatening future – and this concept model is just a glimpse into what the future could look like.
“British defence industry is a huge contributor to UK prosperity, creating thousands of jobs in a thriving advanced manufacturing sector, and generating a UK sovereign capability that is the best in the world.
“Today’s news leaves industry, our military, the country, and our allies in no doubt that the UK will be flying high in the combat air sector as we move into the next generation.”