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UK unveils new next generation fighter jet called Tempest

Tempest is expected to complement the F-35 and eventually replace Typhoon.

It is understood that £2 billion in initial funding will be set out to oversee the design and build of the aircraft, which will be operational in 2035. The project is a joint venture between BAE Systems, Rolls Royce, MBDA UK Ltd and Leonardo.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said as he also launched the UK’s new Combat Air Strategy:

“We have been a world leader in the combat air sector for a century, with an enviable array of skills and technology, and this Strategy makes clear that we are determined to make sure it stays that way. It shows our allies that we are open to working together to protect the skies in an increasingly threatening future – and this concept model is just a glimpse into what the future could look like.

British defence industry is a huge contributor to UK prosperity, creating thousands of jobs in a thriving advanced manufacturing sector, and generating a UK sovereign capability that is the best in the world.

Today’s news leaves industry, our military, the country, and our allies in no doubt that the UK will be flying high in the combat air sector as we move into the next generation.”

The aircraft will no doubt put many of you in mind of Replica, a design study for an envisioned military aircraft with stealth capabilities, developed by BAE Systems. It was ultimately not pursued after the 90’s as the British government chose to proceed with involvement in the Joint Strike Fighter program instead, which ultimately led to the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II. Experience and data acquired through the programme was later rolled into the Joint Strike Fighter.

As part of the study, a full size model of the aircraft was constructed and was subjected to a rigorous test regime to determine its radar cross section. The model is shown below.

According to reports, the Replica project is known to have been worked on from 1994 to 1999. It was also widely believed that Replica could have been intended to inform work on new generation aircraft and that looks to have been somewhat accurate, even based on how similar the design looks to Tempest.

The concept aircraft has been put together by British firms including BAE Systems, Leonardo, MBDA and Rolls-Royce, which have joined together with the RAF Rapid Capabilities Office to form ‘Team Tempest’ to pursue the opportunity.

Team Tempest brings together the UK’s world leading industry and sovereign capabilities across future combat air’s four key technology areas: advanced combat air systems and integration (BAE Systems); advanced power and propulsion systems (Rolls-Royce); advanced sensors, electronics and avionics (Leonardo) and advanced weapon systems (MBDA).

The MiD will now set up a dedicated team to deliver the combat air acquisition programme. They will deliver a business case by the end of the year, and have initial conclusions on international partners by next summer – with engagement with potential partners beginning immediately.

Early decisions around how to acquire the capability will be confirmed by the end of 2020, before final investment decisions are made by 2025. The aim is then for a next generation platform to have operational capability by 2035.

The Government say that F-35 Lightning II and the Typhoon are two complementary multi-role combat aircraft that will make up the RAF’s combat air fleet, “placing the UK at the forefront of combat air technology” – with the Typhoon expected to remain in UK service until at least 2040.

Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier, said:

“The Combat Air Strategy will bring together the best of our people, industry and international partners to support the RAF lift-off into the next century of air power. Team Tempest demonstrates our commitment in ensuring that we continue to build our capabilities, draw upon our experience and history to bring forward a compelling vision for the next generation fighter jet. In last 100 years, the RAF has led the way and today’s announcement is a clear demonstration of what lies ahead.”

Charles Woodburn, Chief Executive of BAE Systems, said:

“The UK’s combat air capability, built by generations of committed and highly skilled people through a century long partnership between the RAF and industry, is admired the world over. The UK Government’s Combat Air Strategy is a powerful statement of intent to invest in next generation combat air systems. We’re proud to play a key role in this important programme, with our world leading technology, capability and skills, which will contribute to the UK’s defence and prosperity for decades to come.”

Warren East, Chief Executive Officer of Rolls-Royce, said:

“As the UK’s long-term power and propulsion partner, we warmly welcome the Government’s announcement of a Combat Air Strategy. The UK’s capability in combat air power and propulsion is at a critical point and this long-term commitment from Government will allow us to protect the expertise and key skills that are vital to retaining sovereign capability. It ensures that we are able to develop and deliver the advanced technologies that will be required in future combat air systems to help ensure our national security.”

Norman Bone, Chairman and Managing Director of Leonardo in the UK, said:

“As Britain’s national champion for advanced defence electronics, we are proud to be a part of Team Tempest. Work we have conducted under research and development programmes such as FOAS and FCAS has significantly advanced our thinking with regards to the complex electronics required for future air combat scenarios and we stand ready to support the future needs of the Royal Air Force. We are excited about the work that’s already been done, and the work still to do, on the FCAS TI programme and are all set for these activities to feed into the Typhoon successor programme.”

Chris Allam, Managing Director of MBDA UK, said:

“MBDA is proud to be providing its complex weapons expertise to the Team Tempest partnership. Delivering effects is central to next generation combat air systems, and we will continue to invest in developing our world leading complex weapons and novel technologies to ensure the UK retains sovereign operational advantage and freedom of action in Combat Air. The strong partnership (through the Portfolio Management Agreement) between MBDA and the MoD has already changed the paradigm for complex weapons developments in the UK, delivered world leading capabilities to the UK Armed Forces and provided savings in terms of both time and money. The Team Tempest partnership has the potential to do the same for Combat Air.”

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