Notwithstanding that given stretched capacity and increasingly limited equipment capability, the UK requires to get its act together, begin to fill dangerous capability gaps and what most suspect is, a shortage of munitions – all of which require immediate action by Her Majesty’s Government and translate to a required increase in defence spending, suffice to say that the past four weeks have been notable for a number of positive MOD announcements in respect of capability.
In addition, confirmation from BAE Systems that the first in-build Type 26 Frigate, HMS Glasgow had departed from its Govan shipyard in Scotland on a barge that would subsequently move the ship to a deep-water location on the River Clyde in order that the ship could be floated off the by then submerged barge marked an important milestone in this fascinating build programme. HMS Glasgow has now moved to the BAE Systems Scotstoun shipyard facility where it will be fitted out ahead of a long period of testing before being finally commissioned into Royal Navy service in 2028.
HMS Glasgow is the first of three currently in-build ‘City Class’ Type 26 vessels under construction in BAE Systems Scotland shipyards and the separate announcement last month that the MOD had awarded the company a £4.2bn contract to build the next five Type 26 ‘Global Combat Ships’ was yet another excellent piece of news.
But it wasn’t just in the maritime arena that defence companies such as BAE Systems and its Team Tempest industrial partners – Rolls-Royce, Leonardo and MBDA – also have cause to celebrate with the confirmation last week that Japan is to formally join the UK and Italy in developing the UK led sixth-generation fighter aircraft development programme and which since the joint development programme was launched in 2018, been known as the FCAS (Future Combat Air System) development or, in respect of the industrial partnership, ‘Team Tempest’.
Japan’s decision to formally join the FCAS programme and which I suspect will morph into the Global Combat Air Programme as a programme is hugely important as it marks the development programme as now being a truly international one. Important too is that this single event marks the largest and probably most important defence collaboration partnership between Japan and a European partner nation. Confirmation of Japan joining the Anglo/Italian partnership will also mean that Japan’s F-X future combat air programme will now morph with that of the FCAS/Team Tempest development and on which a fantastic array of innovative technical development work done by the industrial partners and the RAF Rapid Capabilities Office has achieved some spectacular results.
While many knew that an announcement confirming that Japan intended to join the UK and Italy in the Global Combat Air Programme was probably imminent, when it came it was universally and rightly applauded. The Japan decision may in part be seen as an important ‘seal’ on this hugely important next generation military fighter aircraft development programme. Japan’s joining may well entice other nations to join and without doubt, it completes a circle that was probably crucial to the future success of the programme internationally and it opens the door to a range of additional technology opportunities.
Accompanying the announcement of japan joining the programme and on a visit to RAF Coningsby, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said:
“The security of the United Kingdom, both today and for future generations, will always be of paramount importance to this Government. That’s why we need to stay at the cutting-edge of advancements in defence technology – outpacing and out-manoeuvring those who seek to do us harm. The international partnership we have announced today with Italy and Japan aims to do just that, underlining that the security of the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific regions are indivisible. The next-generation of combat aircraft we design will protect us and our allies around the world by harnessing the strength of our world-beating defence industry – creating jobs while saving lives.”
Charles Woodburn, Chief Executive BAE Systems, said:
“The launch of the Global Combat Air Programme firmly positions the UK, alongside Japan and Italy, as leaders in the design, development and production of next generation combat air capability. With our UK industry partners, we look forward to strengthening our ties with Japanese and Italian industries as we work together to deliver this programme of huge importance to our global defence and security. The agreement with Japan and Italy is fundamental to meeting the goals set out in the UK Combat Air Strategy and is set to create and sustain thousands of high value jobs and benefit hundreds of companies across the UK, contributing to long-term economic prosperity and safeguarding sovereign combat air capability for generations to come.”
Mark Hamilton, Managing Director Electronics UK, Leonardo, said:
“The emergence of a single international programme, backed by three Governments, represents a major point of maturity for our shared combat air vision and a strong vote of confidence in the readiness of industry to deliver the programme. At Leonardo, we are privileged to be a core part of this endeavour. The future aircraft’s integrated sensing, non-kinetic effects and integrated communications (ISANKE & ICS) will be at the heart of the system’s capability, ensuring that our Armed Forces can effectively respond to the threats of the future. We look forward to working with our International colleagues to deliver this critical capability.”
Chris Allam, MBDA Executive Group Director Engineering and Managing Director UK, said:
“Today’s announcement is a significant step in the internationalisation of the Combat Air System Programme which will drive a step change in future capability and help sustain and develop critical skills across the defence industry. MBDA was founded on the principle of nations working together to deliver sovereign capability, leveraging innovation and driving economic benefits. We have a proud history of collaboration with Italy and welcome the opportunity to strengthen our relationship with Japan. We will work with multi-national industrial partners to enable seamless integration, rapid evolution and effector networking to make any platform, any sensor, any effector a reality.”
Alex Zino, Executive Vice President, Business Development and Future Programmes, Rolls-Royce Defence, said:
“We welcome today’s announcement and the positive momentum we are building with our partners in Japan and Italy towards developing power and propulsion technology for the next generation fighter aircraft. In December 2021, we announced a target to jointly design, build and test an engine demonstrator. This work is progressing well and on track to deliver. Today’s announcement reinforces the strong and longstanding relationships we value with both Italy and Japan, and I look forward to us deepening that collaboration through this programme.”
The UK’s combat air industry not only supports national defence and security, but the £6bn-a-year sector also delivers substantial economic and social value. The GCAP could secure or create thousands of UK jobs while keeping irreplaceable combat air engineering skills onshore for another generation. A report published last year by analysts at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) concluded that should the UK take a core role in a next generation fighter jet programme; it could expect to support an average of 21,000 jobs a year and contribution an estimated £26.2bn to the economy by 2050.
In the UK, around 2,500 people are already working on the programme as part of Team Tempest and wider industry. Beyond the Team Tempest partners, more than 580 organisations are already on contract across the UK, including 91 SMEs and 26 academic institutions. The Team Tempest partners have recruited more than 1,000 apprentices and graduates since the launch of the project in 2018, with young people nationwide inspired by the opportunity to be part of a once-in-a-generation combat air programme.
The UK industry partners have already generated strong working relationships with their counterparts in Italy and Japan, which will progress into the new joint development. These include IHI Corporation, Mitsubishi Electric and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Japan, and Avio Aero, Elettronica and Leonardo in Italy.
It is expected that GCAP will generate long-term technological, industrial and social benefits for the three partner countries and inspire the next generation of engineering talent.
In any highly sophisticated programme such as Team Tempest has been one of the big issues the industrial partners face is the often lack of political consistency. So, it is good to know that with a General Election in the UK likely to occur at some point over the next two years that John Healey, the Labour Opposition Party’s shadow defence secretary, saying very clearly that his party also backed the partnership. Greeting the announcement of Japan joining forces with the UK and Italy Mr. Healey also said that “Ministers must make clear how this [the global combat air programme] fits with wider plans for the RAF’s future, including how they will prevent delays in fast-jet pilot training and how many F-35 fighters they plan to purchase.”
I can hardly disagree with such a remark and would add that the UK needs to revise its capability views in respect of Typhoon meaning that given the length of time required to develop such a technically advanced manned/unmanned fighter jet such as Tempest which will be the ultimate successor to the brilliant RAF Typhoon capability in the 2040’s and beyond and given also that the RAF Typhoon fleet is being deployed internationally and heavily used, it is to me blatantly obvious that the UK needs additional Typhoon aircraft as well. Given also that Typhoon Tranche 2 and 3 aircraft in service with the RAF are to receive a significant enhancement of radar plus other planned capability enhancements, I am bound to question whether it is also time that the MOD committed to a full mid-life update plan on what is the rather too small fleet (107 Tranche 2 and 3 aircraft will remain when, as currently planned by the MOD, all Tranche 1 aircraft have been withdrawn from service [only three of the original Tranche 1 Typhoon aircraft are to be retained and I have excluded these from the above totals].
CHW (London 12th December 2022)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785