LONDON – Britain and Japan are joining forces in the development of an engine demonstrator capable of powering the separate sixth-generation fighters being pursued by both nations.
The two governments have signed a memorandum of cooperation enabling teaming to take place on the engine demonstrator and possibly other, as yet, unspecified areas of technology, the British Ministry of Defence said in an announcement confirming the tie-up Dec 22.
The engine development work, led by IHI and Rolls-Royce, is formally scheduled to get underway early next year following a joint engine viability study which has been underway for a while. Japan’s defense ministry said efforts would commence in its next financial year, which begins on April 1, 2022.
The Japanese government has been in talks with the British on fighter jet cooperation for some time and announced in July that it was interested in a joint power plant development effort.
London and Tokyo both have sixth-generation combat jet programs underway with similar time frames for delivery of aircraft in the mid-2030s. Japan’s envisioned fighter, which is designated the F-X, will replace some 90 Mitsubishi F-2s currently in service with the Japan Air Self-Defense Force beginning in 2035.
IHI is Japan’s largest aircraft engine manufacturer and by its estimate responsible for 60-70% of the country’s aircraft engine market share. The company is also the primary contractor and manufacturer for aircraft engines used by the Ministry of Defense and is the manufacturer of engines for the Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s Kawasaki P-1 anti-submarine aircraft and T-4 jet trainer.
It has also developed the XF-9, a low-bypass turbofan capable of producing 33,000 lbf of thrust with afterburner engaged. The company has also previously developed the XF5 turbofan that powered Japan’s X-2 Shinshin fighter technology demonstrator, which carried out a series of test flights between 2016 and 2018.
Meanwhile, BAE Systems, alongside MBDA UK, Leonardo UK, and Rolls-Royce, are leading the U.K. Future Combat Air System industrial program, also known as Tempest.
Italy and Sweden are already partners in the program, signing a trilateral memorandum of understanding with the British to collaborate on future combat air systems and technologies.
Japan is developing the F-X fighter, with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries taking the industrial lead, supported by Lockheed Martin.
The British MoD said it is investing an initial £30 million, or $40 million, in the engine demonstrator effort, with the money going towards planning, digital designs and innovative manufacturing developments.
A further £200 million ($267 million) of U.K. funding is expected to go towards developing a full-scale demonstrator power system said the MoD.
In a statement, British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the deal on the engine and possibly other combat air technologies was evidence of the government’s intentions to pivot its defense, security and trade effort to the Indo-Pacific region.
“Strengthening our partnerships in the Indo-Pacific is a strategic priority, and this commitment with Japan, one of our closest security partners in Asia, is a clear example of that.
“Designing a brand-new combat air system with a fighter aircraft at its heart is a highly ambitious project, so working with like-minded nations is vital. Building on the technological and industrial strengths of our two countries, we will be exploring a wide-ranging partnership across next-generation combat air technologies,” said Wallace.
In the U.K. this work will be undertaken by the Team Tempest industry partners: BAE Systems, Leonardo UK, MBDA UK and Rolls-Royce.
Speaking at the DSEI exhibition in London in September, U.K. program director Air Commodore Johny Moreton said the partnership could be extended, into electronic warfare and radar capabilities.
However, those are “very much at a minor stage at this point,” he said.
The British have for several years been supporting Japan in the development of Tokyo’s Joint New Air-to-Air Missile (JNAAM) program.
The weapon is based on a government-to-government arrangement encompassing MBDA’s Meteor beyond-visual-range, air-to-air-missile but fitted with a new Japanese seeker head.
The U.K. and Japanese defense ministries will explore the feasibility of further sub-systems collaboration throughout 2022, said the British MoD announcement.
Britain and Japan have been signaling their move to a closer defense arrangement for a while. In October the two sides announced they would begin formal negotiations to increase bilateral defense cooperation.
Defense relations were also boosted by the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth leading a strike group visit to Japan as part of a wider deployment to the Far East.
Mike Yeo contributed to this story from Melbourne, Australia.