Japan will merge its F-X program with the U.K. and Italy’s Tempest program to jointly develop a sixth-generation fighter. The new jet would carry a large weapons load and have the ability to lead a swarm of combat drones deep into Chinese airspace, if hostilities break out.
It’s official. Months after U.K. officials leaked the fact that London and Tokyo were in negotiations to merge their very expensive stealth fighter programs, the prime ministers of the U.K., Japan and Italy announced last Friday that the deal has been signed. The three countries will now jointly develop a sixth-generation fighter jet in a program they call the Global Combat Air Program (GCAP). The program will combine the U.K. and Italy’s development program of the future Tempest fighter with Japan’s F-X program that was aimed at replacing its aging F-2 fighters, which are based on the U.S.’ F-16.
The new program will aim to roll out a cutting-edge fighter by the mid 2030s, which was the schedule that both the F-X and Tempest programs had before the merger. The new GCAP fighter will also have key features that all three countries were looking for in their separate programs. For instance, they all want a large stealth fighter that can fulfill multiple roles, including air-superiority and ground-attack roles. All three countries also want a fighter with two engines that can fly very long distances while also carrying significantly more missiles and bombs in its weapons bays than the single-engine F-35 currently can.
The new jet would also aim to incorporate the Tempest program’s artificial intelligence software that would measure the pilot’s brain signals via helmet sensors and help the pilot to deal with the stress of complex flight operations that would involve commanding one or more “loyal wingman” A.I. drones, or less sophisticated “adjunct” drones. The A.I. software will also help the pilot to interpret an overwhelming amount of data coming from the plane’s sensors and the sensors of its accompanying drones. If the pilot becomes incapacitated during flight or combat — for instance if the pilot falls asleep or passes out from excessive G forces during combat maneuvering — the A.I. would be able to take over and fly the plane.
Japan has cooperated almost exclusively with the U.S. in its past weapons development projects, so it is extremely rare to see this historic deal for such a major national defense project signed with the U.K. and Italy. Japan said one of the reasons why it chose the new European partners is because the timelines for the Tempest and F-X programs matched well, on top of the fact that both programs were aiming to create an aircraft with very similar performance specifications.
Japan said the deal will allow it to manufacture a superior fighter at lower cost and in a more efficient way, with one Japanese official saying the GCAP fighter will exceed the performance of the U.S.’ F-35 and Europe’s Eurofighter, especially in terms of sensors and networking capabilities.
Producing a cutting-edge stealth fighter costs a lot of money. The U.S.’ F-35 program became the world’s most expensive weapons program ever, with a total price tag of $412 billion for developing and procuring hundreds of the fighters. So, it made sense that the U.K., Italy and Japan would look for partners, as collaboration would spread development costs between all parties. Collaboration would also ensure that more planes would be ordered and therefore the price per plane would be reduced. The GCAP partnership will also allow Japan to recoup more money by exporting the future fighter to Asian countries, while the European partners will aim to export it to countries on their side of the planet.
Germany, France and Spain are currently developing their own sixth-generation replacement of the Eurofighter, which made it more likely that Italy and the U.K. would look for a partnership with a country outside Europe. The U.S. is also starting to work on its own replacement of its still very new F-35 fighter, but the delivery date of that fighter does not match Japan and the U.K.’s schedule.
So, if all goes to plan, Japan would be rolling out its “half European and half Japanese” A.I. stealth fighter by 2035, deploying it alongside its large arsenal of F-35 stealth fighters, which would be starting to age by that time. The GCAP would be designed to fly with “wingman” combat drones that might be simple “adjunct” drones that could be as simple as “accompanying cruise missiles,” or might turn out to be as sophisticated as Boeing’s MQ-28 Ghost Bat and Kratos’ XQ-58A Valkyrie. Using artificial intelligence software and advanced algorithms, the pilot of a single GCAP would be able to control many of these combat drones, thereby turning each GCAP into the control center of a small swarm of accompanying unmanned jets.
The planned GCAP fighter would be able to hide from air-defense radars as it flies deep into Chinese airspace to deliver its large arsenal of guided bombs and missiles, while also using its accompanying combat drones to attack or spy on separate air and ground targets. Heck, the way things are going now, each GCAP fighter and its group of flanking drones could even fly with their own stealthy refueling tanker drone, to extend their strike ranges far beyond what was possible before.
Image: BAE Systems
Leave a Reply