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Britain ‘will be site of next-generation fighter jet headquarters’

Rishi Sunak visited RAF Coningsby in Linconshire last year when the project was announced
Rishi Sunak visited RAF Coningsby in Linconshire last year when the project was announced - Joe Giddens/PA

A next-generation fighter jet headquarters will be based in Britain as part of a joint project with Italy and Japan, sources have claimed.

Japan, Britain and Italy plan to choose Britain as the headquarters for the Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP), a move that would put London at the forefront of a partnership that could expand to include other nations.

The programme, announced in December last year as Britain and Japan agreed to merge their fighter jet efforts, builds on Team Tempest, which has been researching and evaluating a range of future combat air system capabilities since 2018.

Team Tempest, an industry group made up of BAE Systems, Leonardo UK, MBDA UK, Rolls-Royce and the UK Ministry of Defence, is creating a new aircraft which will enter the RAF fleet from 2033 to replace the Typhoon. The same industry group will work on GCAP.

According to Reuters, four sources in Japan have confirmed that GCAP’s headquarters will be in Britain.

One source said: “The headquarters will be in Britain, but for the sake of balance, someone from Japan could head it.”

A model of a next-generation fighter jet for the Global Combat Air Programme
A model of a next-generation fighter jet for the Global Combat Air Programme - Reuters

Another source, who has knowledge of internal discussions, claimed that Japan and Britain would dominate design and manufacturing on the project, with London’s deeper and more recent experience in fighter jet development probably giving it a leading role in organising the programme.

British defence sources told The Telegraph: “We’ve still got to choose a location and it will be confirmed as a form of ministerial announcement.”

However, the source added that it was logical to base the programme in Britain.

“The UK being the lead nation makes sense,” they said. “Any engineering project needs a design authority, then needs to be tested and authorised in order to become airworthy.

“There will always be a HQ as an administrative central point to coordinate all, and it makes sense to have it in the UK. But the bottom line is it’s all still under design.”

The reported move would put Britain at the forefront of a partnership that could expand to include other nations
The reported move would put Britain at the forefront of a partnership that could expand to include other nations - Joe Giddens/PA

An MoD spokesman said: “The UK, Italy and Japan are working to establish the organisations required to deliver the Global Combat Air Programme, ready to launch the joint international development phase in 2025.

“Significant work on the programme will be carried out in each of the partner countries creating thousands of highly skilled jobs. No final decisions have been made on the locations and we will not comment on speculation.”

Officials at the Italian defence ministry were unavailable for comment. Reuters in March reported that Italy was set to pay for about a fifth of the overall development cost, which the country’s government dismissed as “speculative”.

In an email, Japan’s defence procurement agency said: “Discussion about the headquarters is ongoing and we are unable to comment on the location.”

It added that a development framework for the fighter would be established in the next fiscal year.