The defense ministers of Japan, Britain and Italy on Thursday in Tokyo vowed success in developing a next-generation fighter jet by 2035, a plan unveiled late last year.

In the first trilateral defense ministerial meeting, Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada and his British and Italian counterparts, Ben Wallace and Guido Crosetto, also discussed their cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, where China has been intensifying its military activities, Japan's Defense Ministry said.

Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada (C) and his British and Italian counterparts, Ben Wallace (R) and Guido Crosetto, pose for a photo ahead of their talks in Tokyo on March 16, 2023. (Kyodo)

"The fighter jet project will build the foundation for cooperation in the generations to come and contribute considerably to strengthening global security," Hamada said at the meeting, part of which was open to the media.

Wallace said that the three nations will make a future partnership that is "strong and successful," and their "forward-leaning programs" will produce well-being for them.

The three-way project was unveiled last December by the leaders of Japan, a close U.S. security ally, and the two NATO members, as they have been facing increasingly severe security challenges, including Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine that began in February 2022.

Crosetto said that Europe and Asia had been considered to be "very far, but that is not the case" now, and the future of Italy and Britain are "deeply related to the events" occurring in the Indo-Pacific region as well.

It is the first time Tokyo is engaged in defense equipment development with a nation other than the United States.

Representatives of Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., Britain's BAE Systems plc and Italy's Leonardo S.p.A., the main companies involved in developing the aircraft, were invited to the meeting, and they vowed to work together closely with the governments, the Japanese ministry said.

Japan plans to deploy new fighter jets in 2035 to replace about 90 aging F-2 fighters operated by the Air Self-Defense Force that are to start retiring the same year, according to government officials.

The co-developed fighters will replace 144 and 94 Eurofighter jets in Britain and Italy, respectively, the officials said.

The three nations' leaders also pledged in the December joint statement to build on their "long-standing defense relationships" while vowing to further strengthen supply chains and industrial bases.

Before and after the three-way gathering, Hamada held separate bilateral meetings with Crosetto and Wallace, agreeing to collaborate on the realization of a free and open Indo-Pacific region, according to the ministry.

The free and open Indo-Pacific vision has been promoted mainly by Tokyo and Washington as an apparent counter to Beijing's maritime assertiveness in the region.

On Wednesday, Wallace visited Chiba, near Tokyo, to deliver a speech at a large defense equipment trade exhibition where a booth to introduce the next-generation fighter jet project has been set up.

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