Italy, UK And Japan Sign GCAP Collaboration Agreement

A newly released rendering of two sixth generation aircraft in flight. (Image: BAE Systems)

The agreement defines the next steps of the work needed to deliver the concept phase requirements of the next generation combat aircraft.

Leonardo, BAE Systems and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries announced today a new trilateral Collaboration Agreement to deliver the concept phase requirements of a next generation combat aircraft for the GCAP (Global Combat Air Programme). The announcement comes ahead of DSEI (Defence & Security Equipment International) 2023, where the three partner nations will be coming together for the first time in the UK to showcase the progress being made on this international endeavour.

The GCAP was officially launched in December 2022 by the Governments of Italy, UK and Japan, seeking the convergence of the F-X and Tempest programs. The three nations are collaborating on shared military and industrial objectives in the delivery in 2035 of a truly next generation combat aircraft, the core of a “system of systems” that will operate across five domains – air, land, sea, space and cyber – while connected to other crewed and uncrewed peripheral systems.

The agreement reflects positive momentum and strong trilateral cooperation, says the press release, and will involve the industry partners maturing integration, collaboration and sharing of information towards the next phase of GCAP. The Collaboration Agreement supports ongoing discussions to set out long-term working arrangements and maturity of the concept and capability requirements for the next generation combat aircraft.

“This trilateral collaboration on the programme, for the development of a next generation system, represents the flagship of the distinctive capabilities and disruptive technologies that the partners of the three nations will share, in an innovative way, for the success of the programme,” says Guglielmo Maviglia, Director GCAP Programme at Leonardo. “Participation in DSEI London fits perfectly into our progress of the collaboration and consolidates more than ever the strong ties created between the partner companies of Italy, the UK, and Japan.”

During DSEI 2023, which runs from September 12 to 15, 2023, Leonardo will display its range of products and services covering areas of security, deterrence and combat. GCAP and the AW149 helicopter, proposed for the UK’s New Medium Helicopter requirement, are two of the main programs being showcased during the exhibition at Leonardo’s stand.

A rendering of the new sixth generation aircraft over London. (Image: BAE Systems)

“We have maintained a high tempo of engagement with our industrial and government partners in Italy and Japan since the launch of GCAP,” says Herman Claesen, Managing Director for Future Combat Air Systems at BAE Systems. “The Collaboration Agreement signals the strong alignment across all three nations to meet common goals and objectives on the programme to deliver a truly international, next generation combat aircraft.”

Since December, in fact, Leonardo, BAE Systems and Mitsubishi kept in close contact with local leading companies in the aerospace sector and their related supply chains, as well as universities, research centres, SMEs and start-ups. With the technological development and long-term growth of the economies expected throughout the duration of GCAP, lots of highly skilled jobs are being created in the three countries involved.

“We are truly honoured to be part of GCAP and will bring all of our considerable knowledge accumulated through previous programmes to the table,” says Hitoshi Shiraishi, Senior Fellow for GCAP at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. “The Collaboration Agreement is one of the key steps to ensure our mutual success. We have already started cooperating closely with our UK and Italian partners and believe that our mix of cultures and diverse perspectives will contribute to the success of this programme.”

Italy, the UK and Japan are planning to define the sensor hardware to go onboard the next-generation aircraft by mid-2025, according to info released by a senior official to Defense News. The radar and all the sensors will be worth up to 30% of the value of the entire aircraft, confirming the trend of the sensors assuming an increasingly important role on tactical aircraft.

“We are confident we can freeze the hardware and form the joint venture to allocate workshare by mid-2025,” said Andrew Howard, Director Future Combat Air/GCAP UK at Leonardo UK. “Another aim for 2025 is to reach an understanding with the airframe community about how we will integrate our sensor solution into their airframe”.


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As already disclosed by Leonardo, the radar being developed for GCAP will push the boundaries of radar technology. In fact, the new Multi-Function Radar Frequency System (MRFS), the radar initially developed to equip the Tempest sixth generation aircraft, will collect and process 10,000 times more data than existing systems, or “equivalent to the internet traffic of a large city every second”. The key words that describe the work of the developers are miniaturization and digitalization.

Data from multi-function sensing nodes that incorporate functions such as radar, electronic warfare and electro-optics, including infrared search and track (IRST), will be merged by the new Multi-Function Processor (MFP). Contrary to aircraft up to the 5th generation, the MFP will process and triangulate all the info for a detailed sensor-fused battlespace picture that will greatly improve the situational awareness.

The advanced electronics on-board the GCAP combat aircraft, providing the aircrew with mission-critical information and advanced self-protection capabilities, are referred to as ISANKE & ICS (Integrated Sensing and Non-Kinetic Effects & Integrated Communications Systems). Leonardo and ELT Group, Leonardo UK and Mitsubishi Electric are assessing a number of alternative operational and commercial models. The partners have identified that a joint project delivery set-up will be the most efficient and effective way of delivering the programme at pace, as well as ensuring freedom of action and modification for all three nations.

A core reason why the new GCAP combat aircraft is considered next generation, the new concept transitions from the traditional combat air model of separate airborne sensors to instead provide a fully integrated sensing, fusion and self-protection capability. At the same time, the integrated communications system will allow ISANKE to operate as a network across formations of crewed and uncrewed aircraft, as part of each nations’ wider, multi-domain system-of-systems.

About Stefano D'Urso
Stefano D'Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he's also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.