The UK and Japan have announced plans to jointly develop a prototype fighter jet engine as they both pursue programs focused on bringing next-generation fighter jets to service, as part of the Tempest and FX programs. The latest deal is part of an expanding military relationship between the two countries, which also includes the sharing of air-to-air missile technology.
The UK Ministry of Defense (MOD) today announced details of the agreement, a memorandum of cooperation, of which the Anglo-Japanese fighter jet engine is the flagship. Work on the joint engine demonstrator will begin early next year, with the UK investing an initial £ 30million in “planning, digital designs and innovative manufacturing developments”.
Beyond that, the MOD says an additional £ 200million, or roughly $ 266.6million at the current conversion rate, of UK funding will lead to the development of a demonstration power system at large scale, which will apparently be built at Rolls. – Royce’s Filton factory in Bristol, England. In addition, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) and Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries (IHI) in Japan and BAE Systems in the UK will be involved.
No details on the expected performance have been released and at this point it is not known whether the so-called demo engine will be installed in a flying test stand or if it will be used exclusively for static ground tests. . It is also not confirmed at this point whether the Tempest and FX – if both progressing as intended – will be powered by a common motor. Both models are intended as twin-engine fighters.
“This initiative with Japan is a win-win opportunity to jointly develop leading energy technologies,” said Richard Berthon, UK director of Future Combat Air. “Investing and working with Japan to demonstrate highly advanced engine systems will boost our domestic industries and build advanced military capability. We look forward to starting this work and continuing our discussions on a future collaboration. “
As part of the Memorandum of Cooperation, the UK and Japan will also consider joint work on other technologies related to the UK’s air combat strategy, the centerpiece of which is a manned fighter jet, known as the name of Tempest. Team Tempest also includes Italian defense contractor Leonardo, the European missile consortium MBDA and the British Royal Air Force (RAF), as well as Rolls-Royce.
“Industrial teams in the UK and Japan are bringing complementary technologies that will produce cleaner, next-generation power and propulsion for the future needs of hunters in both countries,” said Alex Zino, Director of Business Development and Programs future at Rolls-Royce. “The Joint Engine Demonstrator Program is an exciting opportunity to bring together some of the world’s best combat air capabilities and will also enable the development of innovative and critical technologies that will be fundamental to the future of the defense aerospace industry. “
We already know a little about Rolls-Royce’s plans for the Tempest engine, the engineers having already assessed advanced engine technology. In the past, the company has described a new engine that burns hotter than its predecessors, thereby increasing efficiency. The British engine maker has also worked with Leonardo to manage the heat generated by several onboard sensors and avionics by redirecting it to the engines for cooling. Team Tempest is also known for examining the use of synthetic aviation fuel to reduce exhaust temperatures and also increase durability.
For Japan, meanwhile, the latest deal with the UK raises questions about the role of its own combat propulsion efforts. MHI has completed a single copy of the X-2 Shinshin experimental aircraft which was used as a technology demonstrator for its future combat program.
The twin-engine X-2 is powered by IHI XF5 turbojets, each developing approximately 11,000 pounds of thrust and fitted with thrust vector exhaust vanes for greater maneuverability. It was expected that the FX would eventually be powered by IHI’s under development XF9 engine, which would have offered significantly more thrust than the XF5. With IHI now collaborating with Rolls-Royce, it is unclear what role the XF9 will play in this area.
The UK is developing Tempest as part of the Air Combat Strategy, which is expected to receive funding of £ 2 billion, or around $ 2.6 billion at the time of writing, over the next four years. The plan is to put in place a full Future Combat Air System, including a manned replacement for the Typhoon fighter jet, from the mid-2030s.
Earlier this year, the UK’s concept and assessment phase for the future combat air system Was launched with a contract valued at £ 250million, or roughly $ 333million. In addition to the Tempest fighter, the UK’s Future Combat Air System (not to be confused with the pan-European project of the same name) includes work on unmanned aircraft, sensors, weapons and advanced data systems.
At the same time, Japan is embarked on its own next-generation FX fighter program, which plans to provide a successor to the Mitsubishi F-2 on a similar timescale.
Developing a brand new fighter jet is a big undertaking, and many wonder whether the UK or Japan have developed business models that can be successful without major external support or collaboration. From this perspective, pooling the technological and industrial strengths of the two countries seems wise.
The rapprochement between Tokyo and London to develop the new powertrain for their future fighters is also the expression of a broader military cooperation between the two countries. At the center of it all, the UK is increasingly shifting its strategic and military priorities to the Asia-Pacific region, with an eye on emerging territorial ambitions and China’s military expansion.
“Strengthening our partnerships in the Indo-Pacific is a strategic priority and this engagement with Japan, one of our closest security partners in Asia, is a clear example,” the British secretary told Defense Ben Wallace in a press release regarding the engines deal.
“As I have seen with my own eyes, our partners in Japan have made tremendous progress on technologies that can complement our own advanced skills and could help ensure that our two armed forces remain at the forefront of innovation. military, ”added British Defense Procurement Minister Jeremy Quin. .
The growing scope of military cooperation between the UK and Japan was outlined in the UK Defense Command document released earlier this year.
Since then, the flagship aircraft carrier of the Royal Navy, HMS queen elizabeth completed its first operational deployment, Carrier Strike Group 21 (CSG21), which took it to the Asia-Pacific region and included joint maneuvers with Japan.
In October, meanwhile, the UK and Japan agreed to begin formal negotiations on a reciprocal access agreement (AAR) to further deepen their bilateral defense relationship.
UK MOD’s support for Japan’s new air-to-air missile program is also linked to bilateral cooperation on future air combat technologies, or JNAAM. This weapon is expected to combine British expertise in the air-to-air missile beyond visual range MBDA Meteor (BVRAAM) with an advanced radio frequency (RF) seeker developed in Japan.
In addition to Japan, the UK has sought other international partners to join Team Tempest. So far, this has included the signing of memoranda of understanding with Italy and Sweden, with a view to collaborating on future air combat systems and technologies.
In the past, there has been speculation that future rival British-led and Franco-German-Spanish air combat programs will eventually come together.
“It is natural that these two realities merge into one,” General Luca Goretti, chief of staff of the Italian Air Force, told members of the country’s parliamentary defense committees last month, according to a press release. report from Reuters. “Investing huge financial resources in two equivalent programs is unthinkable. “
However, Air Cdre Jonny Moreton, UK Future Combat Air Program program director at MOD, told Tim Martin of Shephard News: “We have absolutely no intention of joining a future Franco-German-Spanish combat air system program. . “
Already there has been reports in the Japanese press suggesting that the Tempest and FX will share not only the engines but also “the air intakes… and the area near the exhaust” and that these components will be optimized for stealth.
Ultimately, it is not inconceivable that Japan could merge its own FX with the British-led project. Japan has already announced its intention to put MHI in charge of the FX project, with overall responsibility for the development of the aircraft, but that a foreign partner will also be involved in the program. It’s unclear whether that partner will be the UK or whether a US aerospace contractor will step in to work on things other than the powertrain.
While many questions remain about the nature of the new engine and its capabilities, it certainly looks like Japan is poised to get more involved as a Tempest partner.
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