Why is the future Anglo-Japanese fighter gonna be bigger than F-22?
Global combat air program is the not so catchy name for the anglo-japanese future generation jet fighter, to come online in mid 2030s. While the name is new, its legacy stems from long winding development efforts made by its participants. Japan, for its F-X effort. And the UK for its team tempest effort. There’s also Italy in the mix, as an
allegedly equal but in reality a smaller partner. This video will talk about geopolitics and internal politics of this suddenly created project. What sort of plane numbers might we see? Where and how might the planes operate? And what sort of a plane will the G-CAP be? For over a decade, both the UK and Japan have been looking into what fighter jet might come next, to replace their current planes, come mid 2030s. Late last year, it became official. The British project, where Italy was also a partner, would merge with Japan’s project.
Previously, there were some indications Sweden was also interested to be part of the tempest team, but in June 2023, Swedish military officials said, quote, Sweden sees no immediate need to join any future fighter program. So for now, Sweden is out of the picture. But why did the merger happen? In a December 2022 press brief, a defense official in charge of Japan's program said the timelines for Japan's F-X and British tempest aligned with each other - as service entry for both was expected by 2035. The official further stated that the 3 nations, Italy included, share similar tactical requirements. And that Japan and the UK
desire a large, multi role stealth plane, with long cruising range, twin engines and a large missile load. GCAP will provide a better fighter at a lower cost, in a more efficient way, as costs and technology will be shared. The official added the fighter will exceed the performance of F-35 and the Eurofighter; especially in terms of sensors and networking. Years before the GCAP, Japan was seeking a foreign
partner for de-risking and affordability reasons. And US firms like Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman were in the running. But the Japanese ATLA agency official said the US and LM refused to share certain technologies and information. Such as software source code. It’s important for Japan to have access to the source code, so localized upgrades can be added. The official added that was a bitter lesson Japan learned, which had affected upgrading its F-2 and F-15 jets in the past.
In contrast to that, the official said the UK offered to cooperate in research and design of engine and radar. Both of those had restrictions for Japan, back when it developed the F-2 with the US. Ultimately, Japan expects to be an equal partner to Britain, unlike it was with the US in the past. Exports were cited as the final reason. US derived plane would hardly see much export profit for japan, as the US would be the exporting party. But the current GCAP plans call for the UK and Italy to offer the plane to European markets. While Japan hopes to export it to Asian markets. Japan’s government has already announced plans to
ease restrictions on export of military items. Binkov would like to add that the middle east, while not mentioned, is also a likely pool of countries for the UK. As many gulf countries bought UK aircraft in the past. But before we get into the timetables and the business end - what sort of a fighter jet will GCAP be? Answer to that is hard as the plane’s design is simply not finalized yet. And when the design freeze does happen, it's likely we will see and hear little about the plane, due to secrecy reasons. What we may see first is the technology demonstrator plane. British BAE is making it,
and the decision to fly a demonstrator as part of british tempest program, preceding the GCAP, was made before GCAP happened. So the demo plane plans remain, as it’s useful to de-risk development. What’s known is that the demo plane will not be designed to be fully stealthy. As that’s not the goal for the demo plane. According to herman claesen, a bae systems director, testing the weapon bays will be crucial for the demo plane. Those are difficult to design
digitally as stealth characteristics need to be maintained during various moments in flight. Mr Cleasen also said actual GCAP design may look very different to the upcoming flying demonstrator. What we know is that the demo plane will use two E-J 200 engines. Likely uprated versions of eurofighter engines. There were images shown of demo plane engine ducts, being 33 feet long. For example, F-22’s ducts are some 21 feet long. Though, chinese j-20 engine ducts are very similar in length to the BAE demo plane ones. It’s very likely the final gCAP design will be a large and fairly heavy plane. Easily outgunning F-22 in length and possibly
wingspan. Possibly even matching it in weight. We know eurofighter’s engines are not going to power the GCAP. While fine for the demo plane, they’re lacking in thrust for the final design. The existing Rolls royce engine design simply can’t be scaled up enough. Which is why rolls royce engines are contributing their knowledge to aid the japanese IHI in making the final engine. Said corporation has been working on the XF9 engine demonstrator for some time. Which uses
quite a bit larger core, more easily adapted to GCAP’s final thrust needs. Rolls Royce is contributing, among other things, with variable cycle technology. Though the final decision on using such advanced tech on the end-product has allegedly not been made yet. Variable cycle engines would allow the plane to be both fuel efficient when slow and to produce a lot of thrust supersonically. That’s something today’s turbofan engines struggle with. So far the XF9 dash 1 proved it can deliver 15 tons of thrust with an afterburner. Plans called
for another variant to reach 17 tonnes in 2023 testing. Turbine inlet temperature is allegedly at 18 hundred celsius, which is approaching the levels of modern US engines. That’s over F-22’s alleged inlet temperature, though the F-35s engine is still ahead at nearly 2000 celsius.
Ideally, by 2030, IHI hopes to reach 20 tonnes of thrust. That was before Rolls royce joined the team, which happened in december 2021, a year before the official GCAP announcement. Those figures, if achieved, would put it somewhat higher than the current F-35s engine. Which is impressive, knowing that the goal is keep the engine somewhat compact. Perhaps just as impressive is that the demo engine has a powerful electricity generator, which can output 180 kilowats of electricity. F35s engine can output 160 kilowats. So a twin
engine GCAP might be able to output an impressive 360 kilowatts of electrictiy, with two engines. Knowing that the plane is to use a lot of sensors and perhaps even direct energy weapons - big electricity generation requirements aren’t that strange. Among other details, a powerful new radar set was announced. Wide area radar technology was jointly
worked on by uk and japan since 2021. Apparently, many individual radar faces may be used around the plane. Which would be able to form simultaneous radar beams covering a wide area. While the current aesa radars can scan the skies quickly, they still do it sequentially, with one beam. Before the merger, japan did test a prototype gallium nitride radar array, which is a newer aesa technology, claiming a 50% range increase compared to other 5th generation fighter radars. That may be a reference to F-35s radar. Former director or air systems development, takayoshi yamazaki, also said the japanese predecessor to GCAP was to have awacs like radar capabilities. So distributed radar of ample range and robust
networking is to be expected. He also said it would be able to track ballistic missiles. Given that there is over a decade more to go, improvements in radar and radar detection sensors are a given. Who knows what we may actually see on the plane. It’s entirely plausible that dedicated awacs like planes will become a thing of the past within a few decades. With every fighter having similar capabilities, and control and command being done off site, through secure comms. The british were touting, at one point for their tempest program, sensors in pilots suit and helmet, to monitor medical and brain data. AI monitoring would
then amass biometric data and the AI would assist the pilot as needed. The AI was also envisioned to prevent the pilot from being overwhelmed by intelligence data presented to them. BEA had at one point said 30% of tempest plane would be made using 3d printing. And Japan has been working on replacing fasteners with glue. A full scale mid fuselage part wast tested where
composite skin was glued to composite frames. Structural beams were also joined to each other by modern, durable glue solutions. Japan’s ATLA agency estimated the structure weighed 10 percent less than if it had been joined with fasteners. Manufacturing such parts is also quicker, with no need for so many holes for fasteners. Japan’s F-X design, prior to GCAP, went through
many iterations. Some were closer to the british tempest models than others. The models and graphics shown to the public as a preliminary aristis’s vision of the GCAP, however, show a design closer to tempest than to any of the japanese designs. However, it’s crucial to stress that the final design of the plane has not been frozen. So the plane might end up looking differently, when we see it. Possibly by the end of this decade.
As is usual with 6th generation fighters, loyal wingmen are likely and are being considered. Prior to GCAP, japan planned to have individually controlled unmanned aircraft as near term measure. In the future, by 2035, one manned plane would control several drones. Completely
autonomous squadrons are envisioned for a more distant future. As GCAP was formed, japan said they agreed with the US secretary of defense to explore collaboration on UAV teaming with the Japanese planes. Which kind of sounds like that part of the overall pie may go to the US, and will not be worked on with Britain. Indeed, Britain had the project mosquito, an unmanned loyal wingman demonstrator project, often presented alongside project tempest manned fighters. It was formed in 2015 and was supposed to fly this year but the program was suddenly
stopped mid 2022, just as first media leaks about GCAP being on the horizon appeared. It’s not impossible that both uk and japan will in the end use US made loyal drones. But we’ll see. Missile count is another area where the Japanese have made it clear the new plane is to be large. One official said it would carry more missiles internally than the F-35. Which, depending on which variant of F-35 we’re talking about, may be 6 or 8 missiles. But it may be even more. Because that same mr takayoshi yamazaki we mentioned earlier said F-X is to be larger than F-22 and carry more missiles than it. Meaning more than 8.
He also said the carriage of ASM-3 antiship missile is planned. context wasn’t given but said missile can easily fit on even smaller planes when carried externally. Internally, though, it’d be impressive if GCAP would carry it. We’re taking about a 6 meter long missile. Binkov is skeptical on internal carriage, though we’ll see, if the missile load is indeed that important. ASM-3 is carried by the current F-2 jets, which the GCAP will replace in japan. Essentially,
antiship missions are mostly defensive for japan, and in such strikes over the open seas, the long range of the missile doesn’t really require stealthy carriage. Stealth itself is, of course, incredibly important for a modern fighter jet, but there has been no word on that. So one can only guess that Japan and especially Britain will do their best to keep the GCAP competitively stealthy in the 2030s environemnt. Japan has had fairly little experience with stealth planes. Its ATD-X demonstrator plane was a step in trying to
implement their stealth knowledge onto an physical plane. A Japan’s defense ministry procurement agency official had stated the demo plane had a radar cross section comparable to one of a giant beetle. Though that’s hard to quantify. The British have had, on the other hand, more experience with radar stealth. BAE codesigned and made certain parts of the F-35. Prior to that, BAE had many projects that aimed to lower detectability of planes. Which culminated in the stealth demonstrator airframe called replica. While it did not fly, it was made to fully model actual stealth levels of a real plane design. The initial
testing was done up to the year 1999, but even as late as 2014 further testing of new materials on the airframe was still being performed. Finally, BAE systems made and flew the taranis. Unmanned stealthy flying wing demonstrator aircraft. So, it’s plausible the British are going into the GCAP with some robust knowledge of lowering the radar cross section of a plane. How comparable that may be to F-35 and let alone to future US fighters is unknown. But
it seems unlikely GCAP stealth levels will be lacking in the pacific region, when compared to those of its potential opponents. At one point, it seemed as if GCAP would come with a new missile developed jointly by Japan and the UK. It was called JNAAM, or joint new air to air missile. It was to use improved meteor’s
engine technology, as well as improved seeker from the japanese aam-4b. But in july 2023, the project was terminated. The missile will get tested, but will not get procured nor integrated to future fighters. Still, its tests will likely enable future missile development. So it’s still possible some other joint missile will profit from it. Or both Japan and the UK will simply switch to the US AIM-260. which is to enter service within a year and eventually replace the amraam missile. To get back to the industrial base discussion of the program, work sharing decisions are supposed to be finalized in 2024, and production of GCAP airframes is aggressively planned for 2030. With
2035 being the expected in service date for first operational units. That compares very well to the timetable of Japan's F-x program, before it was merged into GCAP. Given the British demo plane flying in 2027, flight testing of the actual final design prototype airframe should happen around 2030. Compared to previous F-X timetable shown, It’s likely serial standard manufacture
may happen a few years later. 2035 may end up being the date of first serial standard airframes handed over to users. With the initial operational capability milestone for a first whole unit coming a few years later. Initial production plan, disclosed in December
2022, mentioned 300 GCAP fighter jets bought by Japan, UK and Italy combined. Japanese officials had at one point stated Japan aims to buy 94 F-X aircraft. Which is the number of their old F-2 fighters they originally ordered, when prototypes are subtracted. Italy has little over 90 typhoons in service, which it plans to replace. While RAF currently operates 137 typhoons. Though the earliest tranche 1 typhoons are to be retired by 2025, leaving little under 110 typhoons to be replaced. So the overall total of
just under 300 airframes does check out. That being said, no one really knows how the finances and geopolitics will play out by the 2030s and 2040s. Maybe Italy or UK will order fewer or more planes than currently envisioned. Both seem to be struggling financially so fewer might be slightly more plausible. But Japan has recently made a big switch in financing their armed forces, hiking up their budget. We made a video on both UK and Japanese military finances so feel free to check those out. Links should be below the video.
What’s looking likely, though, is that Japan will need more GCAP planes in the long run. Its ongoing F-35 purchases will cover F-4 and part of F-15 replacements. With some 100 F-15 remaining to be replaced sometime after the 2030s and possibly even in the 2040s. So another Japanese GCAP order of another 100 airframes does seem possible, getting the totals to 400 airframes. Before any exports are considered. BAE systems said at one point they expect there’s a market for
several hundred GCAP planes to be exported. One customer might be Australia. Which recently said it will extend airframe life of their superhornets so those last well into the 2030s. And added that several more options for their replacement will exist then, besides F-35. Specifically targeting NGAD and GCAP planes. Binkov’s money is actually on US Air force’s NGAD for Australia, but that’s a very long term bet. GCAP would certainly be the second most suitable option. When geography, geopolitics and future interoperability are included into the equation. Then there are various other, smaller countries around the world that are given to buy the plane eventually. Ultimately, production numbers similar to the eurofighter may not be unrealistic,
come the later half of the century. But, export is just a small reason behind all GCAP. Both Japan and the UK want to remain competitive in the combat aircraft segment. Both want their aerospace industries to remain in game and not have them atrophy. And both are really unable to finance a proper 6th generation fighter on their own. Hence the partnership.
But there’s another reason why Japan and the UK are a perfect match. So much so that the US government has issued a statement right alongside the December 2022 GCAP announcement by Japan and UK. Despite the US trying to get Japan to cooperate industrially with US companies, and failing, the US ultimately announced that it supports Japan's cooperation with the UK and Italy on the new fighter. That US and Japan are discussing collaboration on autonomous systems, to complement Japanese fighters. And that such collaboration strengthen’s US and Japan's alliance and further cooperation with other like minded partners. Enabling joint responses to future threats in the indo pacific region. The Indo pacific region is key there. Japan’s, Italy’s and British statement on GCAP,
released around the same time - said this: That participating countries are committed to upholding the rules based, free and open international order, which is more important than ever at a time when these principles are contested. The indo pacific mentioned earlier and the rules based world order are political formulations that have increasingly been used by the US and UK when talking about challenges coming from China. So, China may, indeed, be a big reason why GCAP is happening. Japan is getting increasingly
uneasy around the ever more capable Chinese military,which is based less than 500 miles away. While the UK is on the other side of the world, its governments have used language that more or less puts the UK on the same line as the US, and against China. After all, the AUKUS security pact is tying US, UK and Australian militaries together. Increasing the likelihood that if the US gets involved in a war with China, the other two will as well. While Japan is not in AUKUS yet, binkov’s assessment is that addition will happen in the coming years. So, in a potential shooting war or even just a cold war arms race with china, the US wants its allies to be strong and to have their own defense industries. Japan and
UK sharing the GCAP means UK’s planes could easily get integrated into the overall command on Japan's islands. Adding another 100 6th gen fighters to Japan's 100 or 200 jets. Logistics of that would make more sense than if the UK had a different fighter. The same enemy, being fought against from the same bases, also means one design is more cost efficient than two different designs. As the requirements would be nearly identical. Given that GCAP is likely to be a big plane,
and its range is already touted as long, it may make sense that those will be stationed in the middle of Japan. And not on kyushu island, as part of the current f-2 fleet is. Such basing would protect them more from potential chinese attacks. While an ample 1000 mile range would still make them useful against China. F-X program requirements called for an air superiority fighter first and foremost. The British typhoon, to be replaced, is also an air superiority plane.
So it’s plausible GCAP will focus on that, air superiority. Especially if some of Japan's F-15s will get replaced by GCAP, it’s likely lots of its units will have trained for air combat, with a lesser focus on ground strikes. While all modern planes are also multirole, it’s not inconceivable that in a war scenario, Japan's and British planes would be tasked with defensive missions, protecting the facilities in Japan. While the US aircraft augment them and on top of that do the even tougher job of penetrating Chinese defenses. Anyway, similar interoperability may be expected when using F-35Bs, both British and Japanese ones. As Japan has started to convert their Izumo
ships into, defacto, aircraft carriers. Compared to US marines’ F-35B numbers, both Japan’s and UK’s figures are small, but still, amassing as many similar planes is likely seen as beneficial. What sort of project share deal between the 3 countries will be reached likely depends much on funding. Though info on that is scarce,
and what info there is, really pertains to previous programs, predating the GCAP. In 2021, Japan envisioned their share of development cost for the F-X program to significantly exceed one trillion yen. That was over 9 billion US dollars back then. Mind you, even then the plan was to find international partners to pitch in the Japanese FX program. The UK budget share projection for their team tempest fighter, from a few years ago, was 9 and half billion pounds. Or some 12 to 13 billion US dollars. Of course, planned budgets
almost always get bigger, so there was a 13 billion pound funding cap in place for the first 4 years of development. Which shows the UK was aware that actual spending would likely be significantly higher. Again, the team tempest project was looking for financiers, so said money was always just part of the total needed development budget. Italy’s officials had at one point said they
expect to spend 3 point 8 billion US dollars on the new plane by 2036. Said money likely included procurement of a few initial airframes though, and not just pure development. If the 3 mentioned sums of money would simply be added up, the combined figure would amount to roughly 25 billion US dollars. Which… may seem like a lot. But for jet fighter development; especially for 6th generation jets, it’s really not. For example, Britain's share of the Eurofighter typhoon development cost was little under 7 billion pounds in 2011. With today’s money’s value, that’d be some
13.5 billion us dollars. And Britain allegedly contributed some 37 percent of total development money. So eurofighter development, in today’s money, would be like 36 billion dollars. But Gcap is to be cutting edge tech, more so for its time than typhoon was for its time. So perhaps another comparison is in order, the US f-22, which was indeed the very cutting edge project for its time. It’s development costs stopped at 32 billion dollars in 2011. Today, that would amount to 44 billion dollars. What that suggests is that GCAP development,
once all the inevitable unplanned increases get added over the years, may get somewhere between those two figures. Or around 40 billion dollars. How affordable will the plane be in the end, is anyone’s guess. But given the geopolitics of the new cold war - it’s still plausible that both the UK and especially Japan will somehow find the money for the project. Trying to project per airframe procurement costs at this point is next to impossible, but one can use a very rough eurofighter cost comparison. Which cost the UK 27 billion US dollars in
today's money, for 160 delivered eurofighters over the years. Applying the same rate to GCAP would mean some 170 million per plane, to procure. Though with a smaller production run, and with a more complex plane, actual procurement cost may approach 200 million dollars per plane. Mind you, these are averages, which include setting up production. Cost per plane usually falls quite
a bit over the course of production. It may very well be that the last GCAPs produced for the UK may be closer to 100 million, in today’s money. The global combat air program seems to be definitely happening, though. Combined Economic clout of Japan, UK and Italy is enough to drive
it through to the finish line. Even without the prospect of a war in the pacific that’d likely be true. But with it, it’s only a question of what sort of plane we will see once it’s designed and ready. Whether that will indeed be by 2035, or will the schedule inevitably slip by a few years - that’s less of an issue. The planes will surely use better names in the services of their countries, as the GCAP is just a name for the overall industrial program. So we may yet see a tempest. And depending on the pace of US and Chinese next generation fighter programs,
GCAP may be the second, or in the worst case, 4th future 6th generation fighter when it finally enters service. Not that marketing fueled fighter generations mean much.