According to sources from the Japanese government, a Japanese official is poised to become the inaugural chief of a collaborative project involving Britain and Italy to develop a next-generation fighter jet. The leadership of this project, known as the Global Combat Air Program (GCAP), will rotate among officials from the three countries, with its headquarters situated in Britain and an official launch scheduled for the coming year.
The next-generation aircraft, slated for completion by 2035, is intended to replace the Air Self-Defense Force’s F-2. The project involves three key companies—Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., BAE Systems Plc from Britain, and Italy’s Leonardo SpA. These companies will establish a joint venture, headquartered in Britain, with executives from each company taking turns leading the venture every few years. The first chief of this joint venture is anticipated to be from Leonardo.
While a Japanese official will initially oversee the GCAP, the fact that both the project and the joint venture are based in Britain raises concerns about Tokyo potentially losing a leadership role in the initiative. This trilateral collaboration comes at a time when Japanese policymakers are contemplating adjustments to the country’s policies on the export of defense equipment. Despite current guidelines restricting arms sales to co-developing countries, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government has expressed openness to allowing the sale of the next-generation fighter to a third country.