Japan, Italy, U.K. Enter Collaboration to Develop Next Generation Fighter

December 9, 2022 5:07 PM
Concept photo of the fighter to be developed under the Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP).

Japan, Italy and the United Kingdom, on Friday, announced a joint collaboration to develop a next-generation fighter aircraft by 2035.

The Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP) will merge the U.K.-led Future Air Combat System (FACS) –also known as “ Tempest” – that includes Italy as a participant with the Japanese F-X program.

The United States supports the three countries’ collaboration, and both the U.S. and Japan are bolstering their cooperation in a number of areas, according to a joint U.S. and Japan statement issued Friday by the Japanese Ministry of Defense. The two countries started collaborating through a series of discussions on autonomous systems capabilities, which could complement Japan’s next-generation fighter program and other platforms, with both sides agreeing to start concrete cooperation within the next year.

“Such efforts between the United States and Japan greatly strengthen the U.S.-Japan Alliance and build on our cooperation with likeminded partners, further enabling joint responses to future threats in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond,” the joint statement reads.

The program between the U.K., Italy and Japan is designed for future interoperability with the United States, NATO and the partners of the three nations across Europe, the Indo-Pacific and globally, according to a joint statement by the prime minsters of the three nations.

“Through the GCAP, we will build on our longstanding defence relationships. The GCAP will accelerate our advanced military capability and technological advantage. It will deepen our defence co-operation, science and technology collaboration, integrated supply chains, and further strengthen our defense industrial base,” the statement reads.

In a press conference on Friday, Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada was asked about the decision to move on a collaboration with the U.K. and Italy instead of with the U.S. He said Japan’s decision was based on the fact that it wants a joint collaborations with countries that have program timeframes matching Japan’s timeframe for deploying the system.

“And we have now reached the point of joint development by the three countries, Japan, the United Kingdom and Italy. The U.S. supports cooperation in development by the three countries, all of which are U.S. allies, and we will continue to work closely with the U.S., including to ensure interoperability,” Hamada said.

Japan’s decision comes as it moves toward issuing three key documents this month, namely the National Security Strategy (NSS), the National Defense Program Guidelines and the Mid-Term Defense Program (MTDP), which covers defense spending for a five-year period. It also comes as Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his government have vowed to increase defense spending and capabilities, including acquisition of counter-attack capabilities enabling Japan to retaliate against bases and installations in the territory of countries attacking Japan, in light of they see as threats from Russia, China and North Korea.

On Tuesday, Hamada said in his regular press that the Defense Ministry is assessing the capabilities and equipment that the Japan Self-Defense Forces will acquire after Kishida informed him that the allocation for the 2023 to 2027 MTDP will increase by one and a half times in contrast to the 2019 through 2023 plan.

After the meeting, Hamada and Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki held a press conference where Hamada stated that Kishida instructed both to ensure that 43 trillion yen, or $318 billion, is allocated to the upcoming 2023-2027 plan, which begins in April 2023. The current 2019-2023 plan only had 27.47 trillion yen, or $197 billion. Both ministers said the Japanese prime minister instructed them to come up with measures by the end of the year to secure the targeted 43 trillion yen goal. On Nov. 28, Kishida had instructed the two ministers to secure funds to enable Japan to have a defense budget amounting to 2 percent of its gross domestic product in Fiscal Year 2027.

Japan’s focus on increasing its defense spending and capabilities has been fueled by its concerns about the security situation with Russia, China and North Korea nearby. All three countries have conducted activities that Japan sees as a threat to regional stability, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China’s continuing claims on the Senkaku Islands and Taiwan, North Korea’s continuous launching of ballistic missiles, and Russia and China’s joint naval and air activity near Japan.

On Tuesday, the Japanese defense chief stated that the Defense Ministry and the JSDF is focusing on strengthening standoff defense capabilities, as well as comprehensive missile air defense capabilities, unmanned asset defense capabilities, cross-area operations capabilities, command and control and intelligence-related functions, mobile deployment capabilities, and sustainability and resilience, while emphasizing elements like defense production and technology infrastructure and personnel infrastructure. Hamada said the ministry aims to finalize specific plans for these capabilities by the end of this year.

As for the agreement on Dec. 2 between Japan’s ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and the conservative Komeito on the acquisition of counterattack capabilities, Hamada said the acquisition of such capabilities would not change Japan’s position that it would only act in self-defense.

“There is no change in our view that Japan can exercise the right of self-defense only when an armed attack occurs, and that it is not permissible to launch a so-called preemptive attack,” Hamada said.

Komeito, as the junior partner in Japan’s ruling coalition, expressed reservations earlier about acquiring these capabilities as potentially violating Japan’s war-renouncing Article 9 of its constitution. The two parties agreed that the use of counter strikes would require parliamentary approval, as per current rules for the use of force by the JSDF, and that use of the capabilities, once approved, would be restricted to the minimum level necessary depending on the situation.

Hamada declined to go into specifics about the potential reorganization of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force’s 15th Brigade based at Camp Naha, Okinawa. Japanese media reports citing sources have said the brigade will expand from its current complement of an infantry regiment, an anti-aircraft battery, a reconnaissance company and support units making for a total of 2,200 personnel to include an additional infantry regiment, taking the brigade to a strength of 3000 personnel. It would also reportedly reorganize the brigade into the Okinawa defense group. The 15th Brigade’s mission is to defend the Nansei island chain, which includes the disputed Senkaku Islands claimed by China and Taiwan.

The Japanese defense chief said he is aware that there are various opinions on deploying additional troops.

“But I believe that the deployment of troops to the southwestern region will demonstrate Japan’s intention not to allow the status quo to be changed by force, will enhance deterrence and response capabilities against attacks on the islands, and will lead to the safety and security of the people,” Hamada said.

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir is a freelance defense journalist and analyst based in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. Among the publications he has written for and currently writes for since 1998 includes Defence Review Asia, Jane’s Defence Weekly, Navy International, International Defence Review, Asian Defence Journal, Defence Helicopter, Asian Military Review and the Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter.

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