U.K. Defense Chief Pitches Post-Brexit ‘Tempest’ Jet on U.S. Visit

(Bloomberg) -- U.K. Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson pitched a strong British military and a new concept fighter jet it’s developing while brushing aside concerns about U.S. President Donald Trump’s rhetoric against NATO during a visit to Washington.

Speaking at an event hosted by the Atlantic Council on Tuesday, Williamson said he’d like to see the U.S. consider purchases of the “Tempest” jet the U.K. is developing as part of its plans to remain a “Tier 1” military power even after the nation exits the European Union. The defense chief is scheduled to met Pentagon Secretary Jim Mattis later on Tuesday.

“Our program will transform our defense business," Williamson said. The security chief added that he is "very confident we can produce the world’s best fighter aircraft and something that I very much hope the U.S. Air Force would be looking to buy in the future.”

While Prime Minister Theresa May appeared unwilling to say whether the U.K. is committed to remaining a top tier military power, Williamson said the Tempest is a key part of bolstering the “hard power” that underpins the U.K.’s “soft power” of global influence. Referencing U.S. preferences for American weaponry, Williamson said “You do tend to be a tad protectionist on these matters."

The U.K. concept jet is the result of a joint venture between Britain’s BAE Systems Plc and Rolls Royce Holdings Plc and the U.K. arms of Italy’s Leonardo SpA and MBDA, Europe’s biggest missile company, for its modernized defense program. Williamson unveiled a mockup of the fighter, which the U.K. wants to be operational in 2035, at the Farnborough air show in July.

While the U.S. has focused on selling its Lockheed Martin Corp. F-35 jets to allies, the Pentagon has a history of adopting some U.K. fighters for use, including Harrier II jets in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Asked about Trump’s criticism of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Williamson said he believes the U.S. to be "incredibly committed to NATO" as the country pours resources into the alliance and its defense.

"The U.S. has been the most reliable partners for us and many nations, and I have no doubt that that will continue and it will continue to grow,” he said.

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