Procurement: Consortiums Building Stealth Fighters

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July 31, 2022: Germany, France, and Spain are jointly developing a new generation fighter also called FCAS (Future Combat Air System). This aircraft will replace the Rafale or Typhoon fighters the participating nations already use. Planning began in 2017 with France and Germany as the founding members. The first production contracts were signed in 2020. Later that year Spain joined the consortium.

Rafale was developed by France and entered service in 2001 while Typhoon was developed by Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain and entered service in 2003. France had long built its own jet fighters while the other European nations either built their own or bought American aircraft. Now France has joined a consortium while Britain is developing its own Tempest stealth fighter with some cooperation with Japan. This provides the European competition FCAS hoped to avoid. Britain has a collaborator; Japan. This gives Britain access to formidable software and technology that the FCAS consortium lacks. This leaves only Sweden and Russia building their own fighters in Europe. In Asia, China and South Korea build their own fighters

Japan has long been a manufacturer, but is now an exporter of fighters and fighter technology. Japanese engine maker IHI is partnering with Britain’s Rolls-Royce to develop a new engine for Japan’s FX stealth aircraft as well as the British Tempest. Over half a billion dollars will be spent by the partnership to produce a demonstrator (working prototype) within a decade. Rolls Royce has been developing aircraft engines for over a century. Rolls was one of the first firms to develop a jet engine for fighters during World War II. Right after the war Rolls sold the Soviets 25 of its Nene jet engines with the condition that they would not be used for military aircraft. Technically the Russians complied, but when shot down MiG15s were examined the “Russian” jet engine was clearly a copy of the Nene.

While Rolls-Royce still develops some military engines, most of its business is as a primary or secondary supplier of engines for Boeing, Airbus and other commercial aircraft makers. While the American firm General Electric is the largest supplier of airliner engines, Rolls is firmly in second place.

Rolls has also partnered with Japanese engine manufacturer IHI, which also builds engines for large airliners as well as engines for Japanese F-15s and F-16s. Rolls has some operations in Japan and seemed a good fit to develop a more powerful engine for the Japanese stealth aircraft as well as a similar project Britain and other European firms are developing.

In 2016 Japan successfully flight tested its prototype X2 stealth aircraft, which was a demonstrator to prove Japan could develop and build a production model stealth fighter. The X2 project took over a decade but Japan held off on proceeding with the FX until it received its first American F-35 stealth fighters and was able to examine what made it successful. Even before Japan received its first of (0f 147) F-35s in 2018 it seemed likely that Japan could create its own. Japan’s first F-35 squadron was operational in early 2019 and that confirmed that what made the F-35 special was something the Japanese could produce.

Japan confirmed that it could match the stealth of the F-35 and create software similar to what the F-35 used. Japan has long been a prolific developer of complex software systems and produced the most reliable initial releases of such software. Unique software was a key element of the F-35’s popularity with American and export-nation pilots. By the end of 2020 Japan decided that it could build its own stealth fighter for itself and export customers. In 2014 Japan finally changed its constitution to allow weapons exports. There were two restrictions, countries at war or under sanctions were not allowed to buy weapons.

The ability to export its new FX stealth fighter made the project affordable. The FX project will cost $12 billion and the Japanese parliament provided $703 million in the 2021 defense budget to start work. Japan has been actively developing technologies for a new fighter for over a decade, and for that reason the first FX prototype is expected to make its first flight in 2028 and enter service in the mid-2030s once the new Japan-British engine is ready for regular use. The FX prototype will be used to test the working prototype of that engine, which both nations will share the rights to. Japan is also willing to help Britain with their new Tempest sixth generation aircraft that will incorporate stealth as well as even more advanced software.

Britain was encouraged by Japan’s progress with its FX and both Tempest and FX are to enter service in the mid-2030s. Tempest is being jointly developed by Britain based multinational firm BAE and Rolls-Royce along with European firms Leonardo and MBDA. Tempest will replace Typhoon, which was developed from a British Aerospace prototype that flew in 1986. British Aerospace later became part of BAE. With Tempest Britain intends to develop an aircraft that will not just be a demonstrator.

Britain also bought F-35s and realized that a European firm would produce a similar aircraft that could compete with the Americans, who had long taken the lead in developing the latest aircraft, which then grabbed most of the export market. Fewer than 600 Typhoons were built and less than half as many Rafales. Contemporary American aircraft, like the F-35, are being produced in the thousands, mainly for export customers. By partnering with Japan, Britain gained an edge the Eurofighter lacked. With no American tech in the FX or Tempest the builders can export to anyone without restrictions the Americans often imposed on those using some of their tech.

 


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