Trilateral Tempest Expands Industrial Base

Trilateral studies to develop the Tempest are underway as year-end business case submission deadlines loom.
Credit: Team Tempest

Ninety percent of Britain’s front-line combat aircraft are crewed, but British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace says he expects a “major reversal” of these proportions by 2040.

Wallace’s speech at the opening of a virtual Farnborough Airshow on July 20—a message reminiscent of the late Duncan Sandys’ 1957 defense white paper that declared the manned fighter redundant and guided and ballistic missiles to be the future of Britain’s defense—may hint at a radically altered Royal Air Force (RAF) with heavy fielding of swarming UAVs and other additive capabilities such as “loyal wingmen” dominating fleets. But Wallace’s comments also touched on the trajectory for the UK-led Tempest Future Combat Air System (FCAS), which is targeted to begin to replace the UK’s fleet of Eurofighter Typhoons from 2035.

Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston, chief of the Air Staff, said at the RAF’s annual air power conference on July 15 that he intended any FCAS to be optionally manned. Sandys’ defense plan sent reverberations through the UK aerospace industry, but the vision for the Tempest calls for a similar fundamental revolution.

  • Saab spending £50 million on UK FCAS hub
  • Technologies are being matured to support year-end business case submission

BAE Systems says its factory of the future will subsume the need for heavy, fixed and long-lead tooling—halving production time compared with previous programs. And industry is looking to new players for cybersecurity technology from the banking world and materials technology from the automotive sector, companies from outside the typical defense industrial base.

Two years since the announcement of Team Tempest—the industry consortium of BAE Systems, Leonardo, MBDA, Rolls-Royce and the British government’s Combat Air Strategy that coalesced at the 2018 Farnborough Airshow—the group is growing for the first time, with the inclusion of Bombardier UK, Collins Aerospace, GE UK, GKN, Martin-Baker, Qinetiq and Thales UK. The additions to the team come in the form of a first wave of industrial agreements, with BAE hinting that more industrial partners will follow. Of the new partners, Collins announced it had been contracted by BAE to provide advanced actuation capabilities.

Sweden’s Saab announced also on July 20 that it is investing £50 million ($58 million) into the creation of an FCAS center in the UK. The facility will serve as a hub for the company’s participation in the FCAS and represent Stockholm’s first tentative steps into the venture. Saab does not name the Tempest specifically, with CEO Micael Johansson hinting that Sweden’s involvement is focused more on the technology rather than the future platform. “Saab’s FCAS strategy ensures that the technology is in place to support a long-term future air capability and also to support continuous upgrades of Gripen E for decades to come,” Johansson said.

While the international partnership model for the Tempest has yet to be finalized, British officials have suggested that the partnerships could be agile and scalable. In other words, allowing nations to “partner in a way that suits them,” Richard Berthon, the UK Defense Ministry’s Combat Air acquisition program director, previously told Aviation Week (AW&ST July 13-26, p. 52).

Johannsson said nations looking to refresh their fleets with the current generation of fighters, like the Gripen or Typhoon, should not be concerned about the push to deliver the Tempest during the 2030s. “A strong joint partnership around a future combat air system will also guarantee Gripen and Eurofighter access to new technologies,” Johannsson said. Existing customers, he said, should see the FCAS as a “seal of approval as we safeguard continuous fighter development.”

Until now, the work between the national partners had been on a bilateral basis. The aim was “to define our common objectives,” BAE Systems CEO Charles Woodburn says. But this work has now extended into trilateral studies that include “assessing how we can start to realize the huge potential for collaboration across our three nations,” Woodburn says.

Although the talks are now trilateral in nature, the UK says it is still keen to see more international partners “join our flightpath to discovery,” Wallace adds.

Industry is already beginning to think trilaterally, with GKN Aerospace in Sweden confirming it will work with Rolls-Royce in the UK and Avio Aero in Italy on feasibility studies for a future fighter jet engine. GKN states it was contracted in the first quarter of 2020 by Sweden’s defense materiel agency, FMV, to conduct a study in collaboration with Rolls-Royce.

Few details have emerged on the 60 technology demonstration programs currently being developed and matured by Team Tempest in support of the UK Future Combat Air System Technology Initiative (FCAS TI). Michael Christie, BAE’s head of Future Combat Air Systems, says work on maturing the technologies ready to support the business case submission to the British government at the end of this year has seen the partners “at least achieve or exceed” the maturity targets set, doing so “at great pace” and providing “fundamental evidence to the business case.”

“Every one of these [60] projects will deliver a UK, European or world first,” says Cecil Buchanan, the RAF Rapid Capability Office’s chief scientist.

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.


1 Comment
So, if a majority of the aircraft operated by the RAF in 2040 will not be crewed by humans why build an crewed aircraft which will enter service in the mid-2030s? Especially since the F-35 is supposed to operate until the 2070s.