Saudi Arabia is urging the UK, Japan, and Italy to let it join the important new fighter jet project they all agreed on in December. Five top officials from London, Tokyo, and Rome have confirmed this request. But it’s causing tension among the three countries. The UK and Italy are open to the idea of Saudi Arabia joining in, while Japan is strongly against it and has clearly told the other two countries.
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The Global Combat Air Program (GCAP) is about making a really advanced combat plane that can be sold to other countries too. They want to finish it by 2035. This project is a big deal for all three countries, especially Japan. Japan has never really sold defense stuff to other countries before, and they’ve never worked together on such a big project.
Lately, Saudi Arabia has been trying hard to become a part of GCAP. Officials in London and Tokyo say they’re really putting a lot of effort into this. In July, when Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia asked Japan directly if they could join.
If Saudi Arabia gets involved, they’ll probably give a lot of money to help with the project. This project is going to cost many billions of dollars, and people who know about it say Saudi Arabia might also help with the technical parts of making the plane. But they’re still just talking about it, and nothing has been decided yet.
A senior British defence source said: “The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the UK’s strategic partnerships and UK Defence is keen to deepen work on GCAP. We see Saudi Arabia as a key partner in the fighter programme and we are working to ensure strong progress as soon as possible.”
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In 2014, Japan changed its rule against selling weapons to other countries. Now, they’re talking about making the rules even more relaxed so they can sell their new combat plane to more countries through GCAP. But Japanese officials think if Saudi Arabia joins, it will make things more complicated. They’re worried about who they can sell their weapons to if Saudi Arabia is involved.
Having a fourth country involved in the project would also make it harder to finish the plane on time. Someone who knows about the talks said Japan wants the plane ready by 2035, and if Saudi Arabia comes in now, it might cause delays.
Even though Italy and the UK kind of support Saudi Arabia joining, there are some big conditions. People who are knowledgeable in the field say they’re not sure if Saudi Arabia can really help with the technology part.
Security is also a big problem. The three countries working together already have some issues because they need to share secret technology and information. Before they started GCAP, the UK told Japan to get better at protecting against cyberattacks and to make sure everyone involved in the project is really trustworthy. This was all part of the discussions that led to the deal.
Saudi Arabia wants to be part of GCAP because they’ve been having trouble getting more Eurofighter Typhoon planes from the UK.
Saudi Arabia buys a lot of weapons, mostly from the US. But, Riyadh is also investing enormous sums of money in the growth of its own domestic arms sector and is looking to collaborate with producers of military hardware.
Following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi operatives and the country’s involvement in the Yemen conflict, Germany, one of the four partners in the Eurofighter consortium, issued an arms embargo against the kingdom in 2018. Berlin declared last month that it would not support the Typhoon aircraft’s delivery to Saudi Arabia any time soon.
Germany’s decision could stop another order for planes that Saudi Arabia was going to get from the UK. Many parts of the Eurofighter planes are made in the UK, but some come from other countries in the group: Germany, Italy, and Spain. These countries can stop the planes from being sold to other places.
The UK has a long history with Saudi Arabia, and they were talking about working together on making combat planes. But they said this plan is different from the one called GCAP.
This isn’t the only move the oil-rich nation seems to be making lately. According to Yazeed A. Al-Humied, deputy governor and head of MENA Investments at the Public Investment Fund (PIF), Saudi Arabia is moving into the pharmaceutical industry.