Japan could become a partner in the UK Tempest fighter project

PARIS, ($1=0.86 Euros) – On July 29, the UK’s 6th generation fighter jet program ‘Tempest’ reached a new milestone with the official launch of the design and evaluation phase, under a £ 250 million contract, notified to BAE Systems, in its capacity as prime contractor, learned BulgarianMilitary.com, citing opex360.

Still unbuilt, Tempest is losing ground to the F-35
Photo credit: Wikipedia

As the British Ministry of Defense explained at the time, this contract aimed to define and begin the design of this future aircraft, which will be at the center of a “system of systems”. It was also about continuing to put in place “secure” digital engineering tools, which will “significantly reduce costs” and save time.

For the moment, and in addition to BAE Systems, this program concerns Leonardo UK, MBDA UK, and the engine manufacturer Rolls Royce, as well as a myriad of “start-ups”, laboratories and research centers.

In addition, the UK, Italy, and Sweden signed a Memorandum of Understanding regarding the development of the Tempest. Hence the announcement made on September 29 by Michael Cristie, the program manager at BAE Systems.

Thus, according to Reuters, it indicated that “international contracts with Italian and Swedish partners” will be “signed by the end of this year”. Probably with Leonardo and Saab. But he also mentioned the existence of discussions with Japan, which, meanwhile, launched the development of the F-3, a 6th generation fighter aircraft to replace the F-2, an aircraft largely inspired by the F- American 16.

For this project, Tokyo had sought partners who could provide technical assistance, including airframe design, integration of radar systems, and technologies related to stealth. And, in December 2020, it was announced that Lockheed Martin had been preferred over Boeing as well as BAE Systems.

In detail, the development of the F-3, in the entry into service is scheduled for 2035, mobilizes Mitsibushi [prime contractor], Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries [IHI] for the engines, Subaru group for the systems of landing as well as Fujitsu and Toshiba for on-board electronics.

Discussions between London and Tokyo focus on a possible technological partnership. “There is a lot of commonality between the UK and Japan,” noted the head of BAE Systems. However, in July, the Royal Air Force [RAF] Chief of Staff Air Chief Marshall Mike Wigston had already spoken of “revolutionary” cooperation between the Tempest and F-3 programs on propulsion.

One might think that there are also points in common between the United Kingdom and France in the field of combat aviation. Moreover, cooperation had been initiated in this area, in the wake of the Lancaster House agreements. Cooperation finally came to an end in 2016. Hence the reason why Paris partnered with Berlin and Madrid to develop the Air Combat System of the Future [SCAF].

In this regard, and while discussions to launch phase 1B of SCAF have been laborious between the French and the Germans, the agreement between the governments and the industrialists involved has still not been signed [at last I heard, at least].

In a report published in July 2020, Senators Hélène Conway-Mouret and Ronan Le Gleut estimated that only one of two projects could survive in the future. “It is not certain that Europe will be able to afford two future competing air combat systems, with an export base necessarily narrower than if there is only one program, especially when the consequences economic effects of the coronavirus crisis will have been fully felt,” they wrote.

In May, the Delegate General for Armaments [DGA], Joël Barre, said he hoped for a “convergence” between SCAF and Tempest. “We are pursuing with the British a minimal program of technological cooperation to prepare for the future of combat aviation. We are both in the design phase, I think in the coming years maybe things can change,” he said. And to add: “In any case, on our side, it seems to me, the door is open. If we can one day bring together the two fighter jet projects that exist today on a European scale, that will still be a good thing “.

However, the more time passes, the less likely the two programs are to converge. This is indeed what Michael Christie said. “The more the two projects develop separately, the more difficult it will be to bring them together,” he said. And the currently strained relations between France and the United Kingdom [AUKUS alliance, fisheries, etc.] do not lend themselves to this.

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