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UK and Japan discuss cooperation on next ‘optionally manned’ 6th Generation Aircraft

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The discussion about what ‘Global Britain’ means and whether the UK will remain a ‘tier one’ military power have a new data point to factor in as plans for a next generation combat aircraft “Tempest” come to light. In the need to look beyond the era of the Eurofighter, could the UK and Japan cement their quasi alliance with joint development of a 6th generation combat aircraft?

The UK and Japan have several defence interests in common, including the need to remain top tier and inter-operable allies with the United States while being prepared to defend their interests independently. In addition, both are endowed with cutting edge technological skill levels, but draw on a smaller population base for military service. In air war, no matter how many planes you can build you still have to train enough pilots to fly them. When it comes to modern aircraft, that is no mean feat compared to WWII when some pilots flew Spitfires into combat with less than 100 flying hours in their log books. Flight training for the latest 5th generation planes is measured in years rather than hours.

This is where unmanned aircraft come in.

For quasi allies like Japan and the UK, joint development of next generation aircraft is the obvious way to go. It plays to their strengths (leaders in technology) and mitigates for their weakness (scarcity of ready pilot replacement). It also reflects the level of trust needed to sustain a long-term strategic commitment. How many other nations capable of this level of military technological development can rely on one-another to stay a common strategic course over the next several decades in close alliance with the United States?

Franz-Stephan Gady writes in the Diplomat that :

Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera confirmed last month that the Japan and the UK had “an exchange of opinions” on the Tempest Future Fighter Aircraft project noting that London is “looking for international joint development partners.” Japan has also been looking for international partners to collaborate with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and various Japanese sub-contractors on a new fighter aircraft, tentatively named the (F-3) Future Fighter Program. The Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) has a requirement for up to 100 new stealth fighter jets.

Japan’s Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Agency and the UK Ministry of Defense first began exploring options for jointly developing a new stealth fighter jet in 2017. The collaboration agreement stipulated that Japan and the UK will exchange information about advanced aviation technology and also conduct a joint study on the feasibility of co-developing the new fighter aircraft in the coming years, I explained in March 2017. Japan and the UK are already cooperating on other aspects of military aviation. Both countries, in cooperation with other European partners, are co-developing a new air-to-air missile. The prototype of this Joint New Air-to-Air Missile (JNAAM) is expected to be built by the end of 2018.

The design concept showcased at the 2018 Farnborough International Airshow in mid-July “described a need for “scalable autonomy,” which would imply an optionally manned capability, as well as a potentially artificial intelligence-driven set of flight and mission systems to reduce strain on the pilot and speed up their decision making processes. In addition, the goal is for a single manned Tempest to be able to issue orders to multiple autonomous pilotless versions, a concept commonly known as a “loyal wingman,” or otherwise control swarms of other, smaller drones.” (link)

Jane’s 360  confirmed that the UK and Japan are exploring collaboration in this area:

Citing Japanese defence minister Itsunori Onodera, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) in Tokyo confirmed in a recent statement that Japan and the UK have had an “exchange of opinions” about the possibility of a joint air combat project to meet the JASDF’s requirements. In addition, in acknowledging that the UK is “looking for international joint development partners” in the Tempest programme, Onodera indicated that additional future discussions on the project are planned. “As for how the UK’s recently announced strategy will affect the possibility of a joint project between Japan and the UK, we hope to discern that through discussions and exchanges of opinions with the UK moving forward,” he said.

Watch this space.

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UK new Foreign Secretary good news for Anglo – Japan relations.

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Jeremy Hunt, appointed UK Foreign Secretary following the resignation of Boris Johnson, is good news for the Anglo-Japan alliance.

  • He loves Japan: He learned to speak Japanese while spending two years as an English language teacher in Japan (SCMP). In a piece on his blog entitled “The Japanese Ambassador” (it is an interview with Yoshiji Nogami ) he wrote that “Japan is one of those countries you catch a bug for and it never really leaves you.” He is reported to still be a ‘fluent‘ speaker of Japanese.
  • Awareness of the maritime domain, which is a key part of Anglo-Japan mutual interest: He is the eldest son of Admiral Nicholas Hunt,  Commander-in-Chief Fleet from 1985 to 1987.
  • Wider Asia knowledge: Jeremy Hunt learned to speak Mandarin while Culture Secretary. His wife Lucia is Chinese.

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UK-Japan alliance goes operational on North Korea

Photo/IllutrationThe Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force resupply vessel Tokiwa and the Royal Navy frigate Sutherland perform procedures for refueling at sea off the Kanto region on April 27. (Provided by the Maritime Self-Defense Force, published in Asahi Shinbun)

The “new type of alliance” between the UK and Japan recorded in this blog has just passed a major milestone: at this moment Royal Navy ships are operating alongside Japanese Maritime Self Defence Forces in the seas off North Korea, policing UN sanctions.

UN sanctions passed September 2017 banned various exports to North Korea in the wake of its sixth nuclear test, making it illegal for ships to transfer goods and items to North Korean vessels. But there have been reports of ships transferring oil to North Korean vessels at sea, in breach of these sanctions. “The presence of HMS Albion in the region is a demonstration of the British government and Royal Navy’s commitment to engaging in international cooperation to ensure that those sanctions are respected,” Mr Wightman (British High Commissioner to Singapore Scott Wightman) told reporters. (The Straits Times)

UN member states have the authority to inspect vessels suspected of evading UN sanctions.

Japan is now the hub of a multinational force composed of US, UK, Canadian and Australian elements. National broadcaster NHK reported on 28 April 2018  that Australia and Canada will dispatch military aircraft to a US base in Japan to monitor illicit ship-to-ship transfers involving North Korean vessels. The sources say the patrol aircraft are soon expected to be sent to the US Kadena Air Base in Okinawa Prefecture in southern Japan. This may be the first time since the Korean war in the1950s that  multiple non-Japanese forces operate from Japan.

The cancellation by President Trump of the scheduled talks with DPRK Chairman Kim Jong Un today raises tension in the region, and magnifies the significance of this informal coalition operating round the clock in the seas around the Korean peninsula. Observers of the DPRK will recall that only 8 years ago a South Korean ship “Cheonan” was sunk with the loss of 46 lives in an explosion that the authorities in Seoul attributed to the North Korean navy, probably a submarine.

It would be reasonable to assume that in addition to the aircraft and surface vessels openly engaged in the operation, there is also much more going on below the surface.

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3 Royal Navy ships committed to police UN Sanctions on DPRK

The Royal Navy has deployed the amphibious assault vessel HMS Albion (with 300 Royal Marines embarked) to the Pacific in support of UN sanctions on North Korean shipping, making her Britain’s third vessel assigned to the mission.

The frigate HMS Sutherland is already in the area, having docked at the Japanese port of Yokosuka on 11th April to prepare for patrols in the area.

A second frigate, HMS Argyll is also due to join the effort.

“Our armed forces are at the forefront of Global Britain and the deployment of HMS Albion, Sutherland and Argyll demonstrates our unwavering commitment to our international responsibilities and to maintaining peace, security and prosperity in the region”, said Gavin Williamson, the defence secretary, to mark HMS Sutherland’s arrival in Japan. (quoted in the Telegraph)

HMS Sutherland arrived at Yokosuka, the headquarters of Japan’s Maritime Defense Force fleet and home port of the U.S. Seventh Fleet’s carrier strike group.

It “will be contributing to the international efforts to monitor prohibited trade at sea by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), which provides a major source of funding for its illegal nuclear program,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement, referring to North Korea by its official name.

“It’s about pressure. She is part of an international message that is going to North Korea and for the United Kingdom to see fit to send one of its frigates, to change its deployment from Southeast Asia, is part of that very powerful message,” Paul Casson, the British defense attache in Japan, told reporters in Tokyo.

The frigate will join policing operations in the seas around North Korea for about a month and will have the capability to board and inspect ships if called on to do so, Casson added. (quoted in Asahi Shinbun)

This represents two significant developments:

  1. The operationalization of defence cooperation agreements built between the UK and Japan over the past decade.
  2. The capacity and political will of the UK to commit the Royal Navy in a virtually continuous presence in the Asia-Pacific proves that it remains one of very few  nations with global maritime reach and influence.
HMS Argyll

HMS Argyll – type 23 Frigate

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HMS Albion – an amphibious warfare ship, Albion carries troops, normally Royal Marines, and vehicles up to the size of the Challenger 2 main battle tank. She can deploy these forces using four Landing Craft Utility (LCUs) and four Landing Craft Vehicle and Personnel (LCVPs). A flight deck supports helicopter operations. Albion can function as a command ship, and was the Royal Navy flagship between December 2010 and October 2011.

HMS Sutherland

HMS Sutherland – Type 23 Frigate, first circumnavigation of the globe by a Royal Navy ship in 14 years; first ship to receive and fire the updated Seawolf air defence missile system; most rounds fired by a modified 4.5in ‘Kryten’ gun in one day (247 if you were wondering). She is also Britain’s fastest frigate, reaching more than 34 knots (39mph) during trials in 2004.

What next

Submarines – or perhaps they are already there?

If you are going to have an unboroken presence in the region, why not go the extra step and have a RN vessel home-port in Japan permanently?

 

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Damian Flanagan on “The Extraordinary Untold Story of James Bond and Japan”

If you want to know more about Dr. Damian Flanagan, you may be interested in this link.

A Japan Times article on the same subject can be read here.

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Global Britain’s Alliance with Japan: Remember Nomonhan

Nomonhan
Two recent publications in the East-West Center Asia Pacific Bulletin series look at how the UK and Japan might continue to develop their “alliance” in future. Reading them produces an echo of the strategic challenge both – as island nations – must historically face: trade-offs and tensions between commitments that must be made towards both  continental and oceanic security partners.
For the UK the Continent means (mostly) the EU, and there is now work to be done re-designing UK-EU security cooperation for the post-Brexit era. The Atlantic alliance has for recent generations resolved the choice of ocean and continent for the UK, but the ‘pivot’ of US attention to Asia (defined not by recent US policy initiatives, but by long term geo-economic trends in Europe as well as Asia) will dislodge NATO centrality in UK defence and security policy. British efforts to revive defence cooperation with Japan is itself part of the response to those trends.

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「新日英同盟」軍事的急接近の背後にあるものとは 英識者が指摘するニーズの一致

link (Japanese language)

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