(Bloomberg) -- Italy has lined up behind a British bid to build Europe’s next jet fighter in competition with France and Germany.

Italian companies including Leonardo SpA and Avio Aero, a division of General Electric Co., signed a statement of intent in London Wednesday to partner with BAE Systems Plc, Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc and other U.K. firms on the Tempest jet, BAE said by email.

While Leonardo’s British arm was already a participant in the fledgling program, the division had previously made clear that its Rome-based parent wasn’t involved and remained open to joining the rival program led by France’s Dassault Aviation SA and the German fighter business of Airbus SE.

Leonardo’s involvement means BAE is aligned with its existing partner on the Eurofighter program, while Airbus is splitting from Eurofighter to team with Dassault, which currently produces the rival Rafale warplane. Sweden, whose Saab AB builds Europe’s third fighter, the Gripen, is already in the Tempest camp, having signed a memorandum of understanding in July.

Britain embarked on the fighter initiative, which includes missile maker MBDA and could extend to non-European partners such as Turkey or Japan, after France and Germany said they’d formed a new combat-aircraft alliance. Some defense experts have said the two programs are still likely to come together to cut costs and compete with the next generation of U.S. warplanes.

To contact the reporter on this story: Christopher Jasper in London at cjasper@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anthony Palazzo at apalazzo@bloomberg.net, Andrew Noël, John Bowker

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