The Tempest would be more than just an aircraft: when operational, it will boast capabilities far beyond any jet ever built so far.
The Tempest sixth generation fighter has moved a step closer to becoming a reality with the confirmation of a partnership deal with Sweden.
The aircraft will replace the Royal Air Force (RAF) Eurofighter Typhoon fleet, and will be deployed in the 2030s. According to Andrew Kennedy, strategic campaigns director at BAE Systems, one of four UK-based companies involved, the Tempest would be a “gamechanger” and “as iconic as the Spitfire”. The Spitfire was the legendary fighter plane which protected Britain from the Luftwaffe during World War II. John Sneller, head of aviation at Jane’s by IHS Markit, – agreed, suggesting the project would be “more than just an aircraft”, adding: “When operational, the hyper-advanced Tempest will boast capabilities far beyond any jet ever built so far.”
Mr Sneller has put together a side by side comparison between the Tempest and the Future Combat Air System (FCAS, the rival aircraft project being designed by Germany, France and Spain) for Express.co.uk, and while he was careful not to draw conclusions about which was superior, he emphasized once again that both will push the boundaries of existing technology.
He said: “The Tempest is envisaged as being a manned/optionally-manned fighter that will feature several key technologies, such as a flexible payload; an adaptable airframe; long-range sensing; advanced materials; hypersonic weapons; laser directed-energy weapons; intelligent maintenance; cyber protection, manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T); high-energy weaponry; and a future cockpit.
“Tempest will be part of a wider FCAS, which will include swarming UAVs (perhaps based on the Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Aircraft [LANCA] project) that according to the MoD will be ‘compatible with the UK’s aircraft carriers’.”
In respect of the FCAS he said: “Next-Generation Fighter (NGF) aircraft to fly in partnership with unmanned ‘wingmen’ – the combination of these two elements is known as Next-Generation Weapon System (NGWS).
“Key technologies for NGF is set to include advanced cyber capabilities, mass data (AI, big data, etc), radar developments in the field of passive and cognitive sensors, hypersonic weapons, high-energy weapons, unmanned and swarming technologies, quantum computing, advanced robotics, access to space, augmented reality, and 3D printing.
“Roles for the NGF will broadly mirror those already conducted by today’s combat aircraft. However, one additional capability is the need to be a ‘control ship’ for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
“Other elements of FCAS: Airbus-led European Medium-Altitude Long-Endurance Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (MALE RPAS), an ultra-low observable (LO) unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV), future cruise missiles, and other legacy airborne platforms operating in the future battlespace.
“FCAS will be networked with all non-airborne assets, such as ground personnel and systems, naval ships and satellites.”
Mr Sneller’s analysis also sets out the timelines of both projects:
- In April 2018, Team Tempest was revealed to consist of BAE Systems, Leonardo UK, MBDA, and Rolls-Royce.
- In July 2018, BAE Systems and MoD revealed a full-scale mock-up of Tempest fighter at Farnborough Airshow.
- In early July 2018, the UK Mod awarded TIZARD, a 12-month contract to develop the Tempest as part of a wider FCAS.
- At the Air Power conference in London, the UK armed forces minister said Tempest will be aligned to UK carrier capability.
- In July 2018, Saab CEO Hakan Bushke disclosed that the company was evaluating options for joining Tempest.
- In November 2018, a Spanish Air Force official showed a briefing slide at IQPC International Fighter Conference in Berlin that indicated Saab to be part of the Tempest project.
- In February 2019, the UK government said it was looking to create a carrier-capable unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) as part of its wider efforts to develop the Tempest.
- In February 2019, the RAF selected SecureCloud+ to provide secure network capabilities for the Tempest programme.
- Entry-into-service slated for early 2030s, to replace Eurofighter Typhoons in the 2040s.
- In late 2017, France and Germany disclosed intention to jointly develop and build a future fighter aircraft to replace the Rafale and Eurofighter, respectively, as part of a wider FCAS.
- In April 2018, at the ILA Airshow in Berlin, France and Germany approved FCAS, with Dassault named as lead for the future fighter element of project and Airbus named in a support role.
- In December 2018, Spain announced its intent to join project and formally joined with a letter of intent on 14 February 2019.
- In February 2019, French and German governments launched the Joint Study Concept (JCS) for the FCAS project.
- Contract for an FCAS engine demonstrator planned for mid-2019.
- Common Operational Document from all three parties expected sometime in 2020.
- First flight of future fighter prototype expected in 2030.
- Entry into service planned for between 2040 and 2045
Photo credit: Peter Nicholls/Reuters, BAE Systems