UK continues to look for combat air partners

The UK has revealed that it is looking for more international partners to join it as it looks to develop its future combat air needs.

It follows the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Sweden to work on a joint combat air development and acquisition programme.

Defence Procurement minister Stuart Andrew has revealed the search for partners began after the UK decided it did not want to participate in a Franco-German project to build a next generation fighter jet.

And he confirmed that more international partners would be welcomed as the UK developed its own military air strategy.

Speaking at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) at RAF Fairford, Mr Andrew said: “The Franco-German project wasn’t one we wanted to participate in, which is why we have been exploring what our future capabilities will be, what we will need for our future.”

From that came the talks with Sweden and the signing of the MOU. Both Mr Andrew and Swedish defence minister Peter Hultqvist said they were open to partnering with other nations across the globe.

Mr Andrew said: “We would welcome discussions with other countries around the world. We are open to those conversations and looking forward to maybe starting some of those today.”

We are open to those conversations and looking forward to maybe starting some of those today.

BAE Systems, with its thousands of Lancashire workers at Warton and Samlesbury, is playing a key role in the project looking at the UK’s next generation fighter jet called Team Tempest.

Dassault Aviation and Airbus will build the Franco-German warplane which is expected to be operational from 2040, with a view to replacing Dassault’s Rafale and Germany’s Eurofighter over time. Last month Spain joined the project.

Italy’s Leonardo, engine maker Rolls-Royce and missile maker MBDA are also part of the British project.

Swedish aircraft maker Saab says it views the agreement as a “starting point” for exploring the opportunity for joint development of a future combat air system - which will also read across into the continued long-term development of existing platforms including its Gripen fighter.

Leading up to the MoU signing, Saab has worked with BAE Systems, Leonardo UK, MBDA and Rolls-Royce on a feasibility study on future combat air systems (FCAS).

It concluded that identified synergies between the companies would provide “a solid foundation” for the further development of the required industrial and technology base.

Saab will contribute with its experience of advanced technology development, system integration of complete combat air systems and related areas including sensors, missile systems and support.

Håkan Buskhe, president and CEO of Saab, said: “Throughout our history, Saab has continuously conducted studies and research of future concepts and technologies, which has allowed us to stay at the leading edge.

“International co-operation is part of Saab’s strategy for growth and the collaboration with the British industries represents that way of working also with regard to the future.”

Speaking at RIAT, Mr Andrew also confirmed that the UK was committed to buying its full complement of F-35 combat jets. BAE Systems's Samlesbury plant plays a key role in the manufacture of the US plane.

Mr Hultqvist said he did not think that Brexit would have an impact on the Swedish-UK relationship.