ROME — Italy has signed a deal with its leading defense firms for the development of the Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP) aimed at producing a new sixth-generation fighter with the U.K. and Japan by 2035.

The contract signed by the Italian ministry of defense with four firms – Leonardo, Elettronica, Avio Aero and MBDA Italia – envisages support for the program’s “concept and assessment phase and related demonstration activities,” the companies said in a joint statement.

Without giving the value of the deal, the firms said they would team with universities, research centers, small firms and start-ups, under the guidance of the ministry.

The GCAP program is an evolution of the UK-led Tempest program which Japan signed up to as a partner in December, while the role of former Tempest partner Sweden is now uncertain.

“With the launch of this new phase of the GCAP program, we are developing a plan for technology and industry that will move Italy’s technology sector from the Typhoon era, the last major European combat air development programe, into a new era of combat air underpinned by sixth-generation capabilities,” said Enzo Benigni, chairman and CEO of Elettronica.

Italy’s defense budget in 2022 contained €220 million ($239 million) for the Tempest program, and planners predicted Rome would spend €3.8 billion on it between now and the mid-2030s.

The statement from the companies said: “In support of the GCAP program, Italy has already earmarked 6 billion Euros for investment in research and development.”

Last month, Italian defense minister Guido Crosetto said Italy would insist on an equal share of the program with the U.K. and Japan.

Crosetto told an Italian parliamentary commission on Wednesday he was pushing for Italy to be able to exclude defense spending from European Union budget deficit rules to allow budgets to rise in order to cover the costs of supporting Ukraine’s war effort.

Italy has so far contributed equipment worth one billion euros and is about to dispatch a Samp-T air defense battery, one of five it operates.

Crosetto, a former head of Italy’s defense industry association, also proposed three-year defense budgets for Italy, up from the annual budgets now produced, in order to give greater funding stability to programs.

Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.

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