UK fighter jet alliance to be established by 2035, despite Saudi overture

According to one of its industrial partners, a landmark project that involves the UK, Italy, and Japan will continue to follow its current schedule despite Saudi Arabia’s request to join.

Herman Claesen said that 2035 is a “fundamental” requirement for the program of all three nations.

They are committed to this requirement.”

Claesen replied “absolutely” when asked if there was any risk of the Saudi Arabian request affecting the date 2035.

Revealed this month the Gulf Kingdom had pushed for a full partnership in the Global Combat Air Programme. The project was launched in December last year and the UK, Italy, and Japan have agreed to jointly build a next generation fighter jet by the year 2035. This is to combat the increasing security threats posed by China and Russia.

The request from Riyadh has caused tensions within the alliance. Japan is opposed to membership, while the UK and Italy have an open mind.

Tokyo is worried that a fourth alliance member could cause a delay in an already tight deadline. By using digital tools and advanced manufacturing techniques, the countries aim to produce the aircraft in half the time that it took to construct the Eurofighter Typhoon.

Claesen stated that the government-level talks about Riyadh’s bid are taking place and that BAE is focused on delivering the program on time. BAE was also “supporting” the UK government in their conversations.

Saudi Arabia is a major purchaser of British combat aircraft, such as the Eurofighter Typhoons manufactured by a consortium that includes BAE Systems. It has also been working to develop a domestic defense industry. UK officials told previously that the kingdom was viewed as a “key partner” in GCAP. Saudi Arabia may also contribute money and engineering expertise.

In a press release, the Japanese defence ministry stated that it was willing to allow another country to participate in GCAP as long as there were no delays in the development schedule. The ministry also stated that Japan would strengthen defense relations with Saudi Arabia as it is their largest oil supplier. The ministry refused to comment whether Tokyo would be in favor of or against Saudi involvement.

The UK defence minister said that it was “committed” to delivering the world’s leading fighter jet along with our partners by 2035.

The Saudi government didn’t respond to a comment request immediately.

Claesen stated that other nations are also interested in participating in GCAP. He said that while securing export orders is a crucial part of the program, it was becoming more difficult to include other nations, given the amount of work already done.

He said: “You begin to consider a tiering or other mechanism, in which people can have at least observer status and go all the way up to full-blown partners.”

The Japanese defence ministry stated that the UK and Italy have highlighted the export potential of GCAP, and it is currently reviewing the country’s export policy.

Claesen, who is the head of the Swedish defence contractor, Saab, said the door was not closed to Saab.

GCAP is developed in parallel with a Franco-German rival programme, which has been plagued by tensions over politics and industry between the partners. Claesen downplayed suggestions that either France or Germany would join, noting that there was “no talk” about it.

Berlin’s hard stance on exporting military equipment would also be a roadblock, he said: “The current position of the German government [is] making [it] harder [for them] to be appealing to any partner.”