ROME — As Britain, Italy and Japan embark on an ambitious plan to build a new fighter by 2035, the U.K.’s defense minister has warned of disastrous consequences should any of the partners get “cold feet” and pull out after work starts.

British minister Ben Wallace made the claim ahead of a meeting next month in Japan where he will join his Italian and Japanese counterparts to discuss the way forward for the 6th-generation Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP).

An evolution of the UK-led Tempest program, Japan signed up with Italy and the U.K. to kickstart the GCAP program in December.

Visiting Rome on Thursday to meet Italian Defense Minister Guido Crosetto ahead of the Japanese summit, Wallace said: “Politically, the importance of this collaboration is we cannot let each other down.”

He added, “All three of us need a new fighter capability towards the end of the decade,” and claimed, “There is no dropping out because we will let each other down. Potentially we could put an end to our own capabilities in our own countries for good. So if half way along we get cold feet and one nation pulls out, then foreign policy wise, strategically and industrially it would be very bad for us all.”

He added, “As we British say: ‘In for a penny, in for a pound.’”

Speaking at a conference organized by the U.K. embassy to Italy during his Rome visit, Wallace was joined on stage by Crosetto, who called the GCAP program “courageous” and said it was a new direction for Japan.

“This shows the world is changing. If Japan changes it means the world is changing,” he said.

Forging a defense alliance with Japan through the program was also prudent for Italy, he claimed. “It will increasingly become more important to ally with countries with which we share threats. The principal threat may not be Russia, but China,” he said.

Wallace added that Japan has exported trains and cars but not defense products.

“Because of their constitution and their political attitude they haven’t been comfortable with that,” he said. “Italy and Britain have exported Tornados and Typhoons and we have to do that to create enough mass to afford our own capabilities,” he said, adding, “I think it is really exciting we have got Japan alongside us.”

The three-way team would not be a surprise to supporters of Formula One car racing, he said. “The best contributors to Formula One are Japan, Italy and Britain. In advanced engineering none of us are strangers,” he said.

Looking ahead to the meeting in Japan in March, Wallace said it was crucial to get politicians, generals and industry chiefs to work together.

“The most important thing as we get to the next steps is to bring them all together, when every opportunity arises, into the same room. The only way to cut through bureaucracy and issues that start to emerge is if you are in the same room,” he said.

Crosetto said Japan had the most urgent requirement for a new aircraft. “It must have the first aircraft by 2035. I am convinced we can meet that deadline,” he said.

Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.

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