United Kingdom Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson said that the UK will work “very closely” with US firms on the nation’s sixth-generation fighter jet program, Tempest.

Williamson said this just days after Boeing said they would be “thrilled” to work on the new British program, originally announced as Farnborough Air Show in July as a partnership program between BAE Systems, MBDA, Rolls Royce, and Italian-company Leonardo.

Secretary Williamson (right) speaking at the Atlantic Council on Tuesday.

“In terms of actually working with international partners, we’re very open to it,” Secretary Williamson said Tuesday at an event hosted by the Atlantic Council. “We’re very open to other companies coming in and being part of [Tempest.]”

Questions have been swirling about the real potential of a UK-led sixth-generation fighter jet program given the Franco-German Future Combat Air Systems (FCAS), program and a likely US-led program.

Regardless, Williamson seemed to indicate that Tempest is a necessary move for the UK to maintain its presence on the global stage, amidst other questions about the UK’s future role post-Brexit.

“We recognize the need for us to have the ability to deliver our own fighter jet aircraft,” he said. “Some mistakenly believe that only America can develop cutting-edge technology or capabilities … We have a great tradition of producing the best fighter jets in the world and we have a great tradition of having that national sovereign capability and we are never going to be wanting to surrender that.”

Williamson further hinted that this may be part of a greater push to establish the UK’s defense industry more globally, including in the US.

“A vibrant UK defense industry spurring healthy competition, this is very much in our shared interest. Why re-invent the wheel when you can buy from a trusted partner?” he asked. He later added, “I very much hope the US Air Force would be open to buying [Tempest] in the future.” Then after a chorus of laughter from the audience, “You do tend to be a tad protectionist on these matters.”