Saudi Arabia Insists on Joining the GCAP

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Saudi Arabia Insists on Joining the GCAP
Saudi Arabia wants to participate in the UK-led GCAP. The United Kingdom and Italy welcome the addition of the oil-rich country, but Japan has reservations.

According to the Financial Times, which first reported the Kingdom's request, not all members view the attempt similarly. Under the Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP), companies from the United Kingdom, Japan, and Italy are working to develop a new fighter jet and other systems, such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The program aims to deliver the first planes by 2035, a tight deadline. The United Kingdom, Italy, and Japan formed a tri-national alliance. It is known that Saudi Arabia was interested in the project because of its 2030 vision and had established contacts to be a part of it. The UK and Italy welcome Saudi membership, while Japan opposes it. The GCAP is a significant step forward for Japan, which had previously limited defence exports and had never collaborated on a programme of this magnitude and complexity. Saudi Arabia's efforts to join GCAP and expand it into a four-nation project have increased significantly in recent weeks. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah in July and made a direct request to the Japanese government. 

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Saudi involvement also implies a substantial financial contribution to a project with estimated costs in the tens of billions of dollars. It is also widely known that the United Kingdom regards Saudi Arabia as one of its strategic partners. Japan lifted its decades-long ban on arms exports in 2014 and is considering loosening restrictions to gain access to more foreign markets through GCAP. 

However, Japanese officials argue that including Saudi Arabia would complicate discussions about which countries Tokyo can sell arms to. A fourth member would also complicate already tense negotiations on the project. Japan was expecting an aircraft by 2035 and was concerned that involving the Saudis now would cause delays.

There are doubts about Saudi Arabia's ability to provide significant technological contributions. This question sparks debate about having the Kingdom as a customer. There are also security concerns, which have already caused friction within the existing three-nation alliance due to the project's reliance on sharing sensitive technology and information. Before GCAP, the UK pushed Japan to improve its cyber security and implement a more stringent framework for the security vetting of project participants. Saudi Arabia is interested in GCAP because it experienced delays in receiving a second batch of Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft from the United Kingdom. Germany, one of four Eurofighter consortium partners, imposed a weapons embargo on the Kingdom in 2018 in response to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in Istanbul and the country's involvement in the Yemen war. Last month, Berlin stated that it would not support the delivery of the Typhoon aircraft to Saudi Arabia any time soon. The Kingdom wants to be a part of the programme rather than a customer.

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