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UK, Japan, Italy Team Up To Build 6th Generation Warplane By 2035

GCAP fighter to be developed independently of the US, combine crewed and uncrewed flight

Photo Credit : Ministry of Defence, Japan


A computer-generated image of GCAP 6th generation fighters

The United Kingdom, Japan and Italy on December 9 announced a “coalition” to build a futuristic 6th generation fighter aircraft by 2035. Dubbed the ‘Global Combat Aircraft Programme’ (GCAP), development work is expected to start in 2024. It is expected to replace the British Typhoons and the Japanese F-2s. 

At the moment, the highest level of air combat capability is illustrated by the 5th generation fighter aircraft. The US and its allies fly the F-35 in this category, Russia the Su-57 and China the J-20 and J-31. 

Development of the new fighter jet is intended to counter increasing “threats and aggression” against the “rules-based, free and open international order”. 

“Defending our democracy, economy and security, and protecting regional stability, are ever more important,” a joint statement by the leaders of the GCAP teaming countries stated. The statement did not specifically mention China and Russia, but the comments appear to be directed against these countries, which are also known to be developing their own 6th Generation warplanes.

“The ambition is for this to be a next-generation jet enhanced by a network of capabilities such as uncrewed aircraft, advanced sensors, cutting-edge weapons and innovative data systems,” the joint statement added.

India’s programme to build a 5th generation fighter, the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) is expected to mature by about 2035, by which time the UK-Japan-Italy team aims to fly its GCAP 6th generation fighter. 

Significantly, GCAP is independent of the participating countries’ biggest ally, the US. They are partners in the ongoing US-led F-35 programme, which will not be affected.

Tough US export controls on military technology is stated to be one of the main triggers for the GCAP. US export controls is reported to have limited the capacity of F-35 customers to adapt the aircraft to meet specific requirements, or even use the 5th generation technologies on the F-35 for their own programmes.

The joint statement asserted that the GCAP programme “will support the sovereign capability of all three countries to design, deliver and upgrade cutting-edge combat air capabilities.”

The US too is pursuing development of its 6th Generation fighter on its own. Known as the Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) programme, it is meant to produce a replacement for the F-22 by 2030. 

Some of the stated objectives of the NGAD programme are similar to those of the GCAP’s. 

“The Air Force intends for NGAD to replace the F-22 fighter jet beginning in 2030, possibly including a combination of crewed and uncrewed aircraft,” a US Congressional Research document states. 

The US has expressed support for the UK-Japan-Italy fighter coalition. “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,” a US-Japan joint statement read. 

The GCAP statement issued by the leaders of the UK, Japan and Italy clarified that the new warplane would be designed to integrate with the defence programmes of all allies and partners.

“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 centre of its development,” it stated. 

The leaders of the teaming countries also highlighted the economic and industrial dividend of the programme. 

“It will deepen our defense cooperation, science and technology collaboration, integrated supply chains, and further strengthen our defense industrial base,” their joint statement mentioned.

“This programme will deliver wider economic and industrial benefits, supporting jobs and livelihoods across Japan, Italy and the UK,” the statement added.

A British statement cited a 2021 analysis by PricewaterhouseCoopers which assessed that the new warplane programme could support 21,000 jobs a year by 2050 and contribute an estimated $32.1 Billion to the economy.