The United Kingdom is planning to work “quite closely” with U.S.-based aerospace industry partners as it develops its future next-generation fighter aircraft, the nation’s defense secretary said Aug. 7.

The U.K. Ministry of Defence (MoD) revealed the design for the Tempest fighter jet – which would replace its fleet of Eurofighter Typhoons by the 2040s – at this year’s Farnborough Airshow in England. Although a consortium of European developers has already been established, American partners may yet play a role, Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson said at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C.

U.K. Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson speaks with fmr. U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C. Photo: Atlantic Council
U.K. Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson speaks with fmr. U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C. Screenshot: Atlantic Council

“We have a great tradition producing the best fighters in the world … and we are never going to be wanting to surrender that,” he said. “But in terms of actually working with international partners, we’re very open to it.”

A joint program office for the Tempest has already been set up, comprised of the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence, the British-based BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce, Italy’s Leonardo and the Anglo-French weapons manufacturer MBDA, Defense News reported from Farnborough. However, Williamson said the ministry is open to “other nations and other businesses becoming part of that consortium” as the fighter design is developed.

“We recognize the need for us to have the ability to deliver our own fighter,” he said. “We’re very confident that we can produce the world’s best fighter aircraft and something that I very much hope the U.S. Air Force will be looking to buy in the future.”

As a member-nation of NATO and a key European ally to the United States for decades, the United Kingdom is making efforts to maintain its status as a Tier-1 global military power to help combat a growing series of international challenges, to include “a nuclear-armed North Korea, … a rising China [and] an increasingly aggressive Russia,” Williamson said.

The nation’s “modernizing defense programme” is slated to be released by the end of 2018, he noted. The effort is intended to help streamline the MoD’s acquisition models and modernize its business practices, improve its commercial capabilities and prioritize defense needs, according to the ministry. Williamson did not elaborate on any current areas of focus within the effort.

Williamson heralded the close and longstanding partnership between the United States and the United Kingdom on programs including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and on efforts such as the autonomous last-mile convoys, which are being developed under the joint coalitions assured autonomous resupply project. He noted the cooperative development of a new common missile compartment for the countries’ next-generation nuclear submarines.

“There can surely be no greater sign of trust than our willingness to work together on a common missile compartment for our Dreadnought submarines and your U.S. Columbia-class submarines,” he said.

Like the United States, the United Kingdom must work to develop and field technology more quickly than it has in the past, Williamson said. Traditionally, programs have taken up to 15 or 20 years to move from inception to delivery, he noted.

“That isn’t going to be acceptable in this ever-changing world where technology moves so quickly,” he said. “We shouldn’t always be going for purely the most exquisite [technology]. We need to have the ability to be able to field numbers, we’ve got to be able to have presence around the globe, and we’ve got to be in a position where we don’t just … get things that are ever more expensive, [and] just a smaller and smaller number of them.”