DSEI NEWS: Italy, U.K., Japan Lay Foundation for New 6th-Gen Fighter

By Josh Luckenbaugh

MBDA photo

LONDON — The Global Combat Air Program has been the talk of the DSEI trade show this week, with key figures from the companies involved signing collaboration agreements and touting the strength of their bond despite their cultural and geographic differences.

The program, nicknamed GCAP, is a joint development effort between the United Kingdom, Italy and Japan to develop a sixth-generation fighter by 2035. Industry leaders from the three countries — BAE Systems from the United Kingdom, Leonardo SpA from Italy and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries from Japan — kicked off the show Sept. 12 by announcing they had “agreed a trilateral collaboration agreement to deliver the concept phase requirements” for the next-generation combat aircraft.

“GCAP is a hugely significant program for the security, political and economic prosperity of each nation and through effective knowledge and technology transfer will help to evolve and deliver important sovereign combat air capability in each nation for generations to come,” a press release stated.

The collaboration agreement is a key step to ensuring mutual success, Hitoshi Shiraishi, GCAP senior fellow at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, said in the release. “We have already started cooperating closely with our U.K. and Italian partners and believe that our mix of cultures and diverse perspectives will contribute to the success of this program.”

A second collaboration agreement focused on the effects domain of GCAP was signed Sept. 13 by the British and Italian branches of missile developer MBDA and Japan’s Mitsubishi Electric Corporation.

The three companies will work together to ensure the seamless integration of weapons for the GCAP platform and collaborate on weapon effects management and related technologies, a MBDA press release said. The agreement is focused on aligning national approaches to effector integration of the GCAP partners, and does not include the joint development of weapon systems, the release added.

The companies’ combined expertise will be fundamental in ensuring that the GCAP effects domain works in harmony with the platform’s other domains — mission systems, sensors and power — exploiting the information advantage they will provide and together maximizing mission effectiveness, giving GCAP customers a decisive advantage, the release said.

Companies across the three countries are already hard at work on GCAP systems. The international partners working on the aircraft’s integrated sensing and non-kinetic effects and integrated communications systems signed their collaboration agreement on the sidelines of the DSEI Japan trade show in March, and since then “we’ve seen an unprecedented period of joint workings,” said Andrew Howard, director of future combat air/GCAP UK for Leonardo UK.

“The teams have been together more or less constantly in the six month period. They feel trust, they feel understanding, and they've got shared recognition of each other's capabilities,” Howard said during a media briefing at DSEI. The next step is to “optimize where we target resources, understand better what our solution is going to look like [and] start to work out how we're going to commercially construct a program to deliver the capability that we need.”

While all three countries have different languages, cultures and time zones, those differences “will not be obstacles,” Shiraishi said during a panel discussion at the show. “Instead, I am expecting, or even excited, that a mixture of different cultures and experience … will inspire each other and produce” the best outcomes.

“And of course there is a time difference between us, but we are closely communicating by the mixture of face-to-face joint work and Webex meetings,” he said. “And time differences sometimes work better, because we can fully utilize the 24 hours. For example, unfinished work at the end of the day in Japan can be finished in [the United Kingdom] or Italy” by the next morning.

By having this wealth and variety of expertise on the team, GCAP can make sure “the best engineers, the right engineers” are developing the aircraft “in a digital environment instead of being forced to do that in one location,” said Herman Claesen, managing director for future combat air systems at BAE Systems.

“I'm absolutely confident based on the conversations that we're having, the drive and the energy which is currently being created will allow us to come up with the best answer … the right economic [and] strategic benefits for each of the nations, as well as achieving the right operational capability for 2035,” Claesen said.


Topics: Global Defense Market, International, Air Power

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