Bae Systems Future Combat Air System (Tempest)
The UK Future Combat Air System (FCAS) is a multi-national effort to replace the Eurofighter Typhoon around 2035. Rather than a single platform, FCAS will consist of a family of systems (FoS) architecture consisting of the Tempest manned fighter teamed with an unmanned aerial system (UAS). Tempest is expected to be low observable (LO), feature advanced power and thermal management capabilities (PTMS) and networked multi-spectral sensors. The UAS complement is being developed under project Mosquito. As of the time of this writing, UK and Italy remain the core Team Tempest partners but Sweden and Japan are in the process of determining their involvement.
Pre-History: Eurofighter, Rafale & Familiar Patterns (1978-1985)
The genesis of two distinct consortiums amongst European nations in the 1980s into the 1990s shares many similarities to the continent’s current fighter projects in terms of the influence of distinct national priorities, comparative industry specialties as well as diplomatic and military friction between allies.
Both the Eurofighter and Rafale programs originate from a 1978 study between the UK, Germany and France on a common future fighter aircraft. Germany and the UK maintained similar requirements as F-4 Phantom operators, requiring a fighter optimized for air superiority and interception. The French desired a multi-role aircraft – with an emphasis on air-to-surface first, to replace its Mirage-2000s and Jaguar fleets. The joint program was shelved in 1981 and Panavia consortium partners involved in the Tornado program (BAE, Aeritalia, Messerschmitt-Boelkow-Blohm) launched the European Fighter Aircraft (EPA) program and associated Experimental Aircraft Program (EAP) demonstrator in October 1982. The French announced their own Avion de Combat experimental (ACX) demonstrator that December which would build upon earlier French investments in the Snecma M88 (now Safran) engine, airframe and avionics technologies. By the end of 1983, the chiefs of staff of the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain and France were again discussing a common EPA configuration, but irreconcilable differences emerged between the UK and France for design leadership between 1983-1985.
The foundational element defining French defense industrial policy in the Fifth Republic has been to maintain a self-sufficient industrial base in all aspects – including aircraft design such as airframe, avionics, engine technologies. The French increasingly viewed cooperation with so many partners as detrimental to not only preserving but also expanding its industrial capabilities. In particular, Germany and the UK favored developing the Rolls-Royce & MTU RB199 rather than the M88 which would effectively end France’s military turbofan industrial base. The UK and France each sought to entice German cooperation in 1984 with the German Foreign Minister supporting partnership with France and both the Defense Minister and Chief of Staff of the Luftwaffe strongly favoring a partnership with the UK. Ultimately, Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU) party applied significant pressure to partner with the UK in order to preserve MTU’s engine expertise. Furthermore, Germany had already committed to codevelop a next generation attack helicopter with France – eventually becoming the Airbus Tiger. With German support for the UK, Italy soon followed. Spain briefly maintained cooperation with France on ACX, but by the end of 1985 France was left without any international partners. The four remaining nations would proceed to develop the Eurofighter Typhoon and France would develop the Rafale on its own.
UK Experience in LO Programs 1986-2005
The UK has explored low observables since at least the 1980s when the RAF considered acquiring the F-117 between 1986-1987. RAF pilots were briefed into the program and participated in flight tests in Nevada. The RAF briefly evaluated the F-117 for a second time in the early 1990s. Lockheed proposed a highly modified F-117B featuring a nose mounted radar, enlarged weapon bay and new larger wings. BAE was offered component work and the aircraft would have used EJ200 turbofans developed for the Typhoon. The UK also had involvement with the F-35 percussor programs in the 1980s which dealt with LO including ASTOVL.
After Desert Storm, the UK explored acquiring a LO Tornado replacement as part of the Future Offensive Aircraft (FOAS) program which established UK LO industry expertise. Between 1994-1999, BAE matured its Replica technology demonstrator which concluded in a series of radar pole tests. The Replica planform included a forward chine, lambda wings and V-tails – sharing some details to the current Tempest concept. The model was assembled at BAE Warton from large carbon fiber composite skins manufactured by BAE Systems Samlesbury. FOAS was canceled 2005 as the UK shifted to consider UAVs instead.
UCAV Focus & UK-French Cooperation 2005-2017
In 2005, the UK released its Defence Technology Strategy (DTS) and Defence Industry Strategy (DIS) reports which established future industrial base priorities. The DTS eschewed the development of a new follow-on fighter stating:
“The anticipated multi-decade operation of the Joint Strike Fighter and Typhoon has removed the requirement for the UK to design and build a future generation of manned fast jet aircraft for the foreseeable future… The DIS identifies the UAV as an emerging system in aerospace. Although there are powerful drivers for the employment of unmanned systems (see subsection on UAVs), the development and employment of advanced combat capable UAVs clearly provides significant technical challenges. It also provides an opportunity for technological innovation to challenge the traditional economics of development, manufacture and employment of air systems.”
At the time, the Typhoon had recently entered RAF service (2003) and production was expected to continue well into the next decade while development of the F-35 was ongoing. Instead, the DIS argued the UK needed to cultivate national design expertise with respect to unmanned systems and low observables. By launching an unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) technology demonstrator, the MoD would also be able to better assess the role of unmanned systems its future force structure. The UK subsequently launched the Strategic Unmanned Air Vehicle (Experimental) (SUAVE) program and associated Taranis Technology Demonstrator. In December 2006, and BAE Systems was awarded £124 million develop Taranis with support from QinetiQ, Rolls-Royce and Smiths Aerospace. Fabrication of Taranis began in 2007 and flight testing began in 2013. Around this time, France’s Dassault was working on its own nEUROn UCAV demonstrator which first flew in 2012.
Generally recognized as the two foremost European aerospace authorities, the UK and France had hoped to at least partially cooperate on their next generation combat aircraft prior to Brexit in 2016. In November 2010, the countries signed the Lancaster House treaties which promoted defense cooperation on a range of issues including aircraft carriers, communication systems and UAVs. In 2014, both nations jointly awarded £120/€150 million to BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Finmeccanica as well as Dassault, Thales and Safran as part of the Future Combat Air System Demonstration Program Preparation Phase (FCAS DPPP). In February 2016, Prime Minister Cameron announced both nations would invest £1.54 billion ($2 billion) to fund a next generation UCAV prototype with flight testing by 2025 and initial operational capability by 2030. However, with the referendum on Brexit in June 2016 and PM Cameron’s subsequent departure in July, further Anglo-French cooperation stalled and France began to more seriously explore defense cooperation with Germany.
Upon taking office in May 2017, French President Emmanuel Macron sought to establish greater strategic autonomy for Europe vis-à-vis the U.S. With Brexit and the decline of transatlantic relations, France was left in a unique position within the EU as its sole nuclear power, as a key aerospace industry leader and as a major security provider. President Macron perceived a Franco-German alignment as a core pillar of Europe’s future autonomy. In July 2017, France and Germany agreed to jointly develop a next generation fighter and FCAS DPPP had stalled by 2018 and was effectively canceled by 2019.
Manned Fighter Focus, Search for Partners, Combat Air Strategy 2015-2018
By the time of FCAS DPPP was facing political headwinds, the landscape of the UK’s industrial base and fiscal environment had completely changed relative to the 2005 DIS/DTS. BAE System’s Warton production line would soon conclude the RAF’s order for 160 Typhoons in 2019. The Eurofighter consortium had limited export success for the type beyond Europe and the Gulf. Similarly, production of BAE’s Hawk advanced jet trainer would soon end after 40 years. UK industry still maintained a 15% stake in the F-35 program, but lower fiscal outlays and rising program costs cast doubt on the procurement goal of 138 aircraft. The MoD’s budget fell from 2.5% to 2% of GDP from 2010-2015 and did not increase significantly until the 2017/2018 period. Crucially, with the end of Taranis and FCAS DPPP, UK industry had limited opportunities for further research and development work. These pressures from domestic industry to cultivate human capital and support the local economy created the foundational imperative for a new manned fighter program.
As part of the 2015 SDR, the UK quietly began its Future Air Combat System Technology Initiative (FCAS TI) – an effort to mature a group of capabilities to replace Typhoon and inform 2025 decision on further development. One of the earlier visible signs of the UK’s pivot towards a manned fighter came in in March 2017 with the formation of a joint Japan-UK fighter working group. By February 2018, UK Defence Minister Gavin Williamson announced the MoD would produce a new Combat Air Strategy which was unveiled that July. Williamson formally announced the Tempest project to develop a new manned fighter at the Farnborough air show stating, “early decisions on how to acquire the capability will be confirmed by the end of 2020, before final investment decisions are made by 2025.” At the time, the MoD planned to spend at least £2 billion ($2.65 billion) through 2025 to support technology maturation and risk reduction activities prior to full-scale development. Under the schedule, Tempest would achieve initial operational capability (IOC) by 2035. At the time of the announcement Team Tempest included BAE Systems, MBDA, Leonardo UK and Rolls-Royce (RR).
Search for International Partners 2018-2021
For the UK, international collaboration was imperative. Each generation of combat aircraft has proven to be more expensive and technically demanding than the last. The UK financed 33% of the Eurofighter’s development costs at $11.8 billion in inflation adjusted dollars. International participation would further reduce procurement costs through economies of scale. After the Farnborough announcement, the UK government launched diplomatic outreach efforts to Italy, Sweden and Japan.
For decades, Italy has viewed the UK as its primary European defense industrial cooperation partner. The two nations forged a comprehensive relationship during the Tornado program which was solidified further by the Typhoon project. Like the UK, Italy’s Typhoon final assembly line would soon close in the early 2020s absent additional export orders. After the July 2018 Farnborough airshow, the UK and Italy launched a joint fighter feasibility study examining common requirements. That September, Italian Defense Undersecretary Angelo Tofalo remarked that Italy “should join Tempest immediately in order to be at the forefront of cooperation with the UK.” Italy formally joined the UK FCAS program on September 11, 2019 when Secretary General of Defense – Lt. Gen. Nicolò Falsaperna, signed a statement of intent. Multiple Italian government and industry officials have since voiced a preference to merge Tempest with SCAF but this possibility remains unlikely.
Saab has a distinguished history in producing jet fighters since the 1940s and Sweden’s government has ensured its industrial base persists with each new generation of indigenous combat aircraft. Sweden has often partnered with the UK on subcomponent work. BAE Systems had a role in marketing the Gripen in the early years of the program and UK components represented 30-35% of the total value of each Saab JAS 39 Gripen produced. UK-Swedish FCAS discussions began in 2018 and culminated in a July 2019 memorandum of understanding (MoU) to explore future fighter technologies. In July 2020, Saab announced it would establish a “FCAS center of excellence” worth £50 million ($63 million) in Sweden. Unlike Italy, Sweden has not committed to the Tempest manned fighter. Sweden is instead interested in collaborating on the broader set of technologies within the FCAS SoS. In February 2021, Saab’s CEO Michael Johansson said that that Sweden’s participation in FCAS would bring additional capabilities to GlobalEye and Gripen E.
Japan launched its F-2 fighter replacement program in 2016 and quickly sought out opportunities to collaborate with the UK. Both countries foresaw the need to lower costs and leverage unique expertise between countries. A vocal contingent within the Japanese MoD and Parliament believed partnering with the UK would bring greater opportunity for local industry and secure more robust intellectual property (IP) rights.This group believed that any partnership with the U.S. would be marred by “black boxes;” components that could not be fully explained to Japan over security or IP concerns. In contrast, Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) officials appeared to be more supportive of an American partnership.
In response, the U.S. government showed a renewed willingness to address intellectual property issues and Japan subsequently established U.S. fighter working group in September 2019. The Japanese MoD’s appraisal of Tempest also soured throughout the latter half of 2019 as it became clear that the UK would seek to retain leadership of any joint fighter program at the cost of Japanese industry. By March of 2020, the Japanese government decided future cooperation with the UK would be limited to a subsystem level – the most significant being joint engine components and technologies. Refer to the engine and avionics section of this profile as well as the separate Mitsubishi F-X program profile on AWIN for additional details.
In December 2020, the UK, Italy, and Sweden signed an MoU to codify their FCAS relationship.
2021 Integrated Review & Defence Command Paper
In March 2021, the UK released its Integrated Review and associated Defence Command Paper (DCP). The document affirmed the 2018 combat air strategy, stating the UK would invest over £2 billion in FCAS through 2024:
“Our investment in the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) programme represents a paradigm shift in the UK’s combat air industrial sector to achieve the pace, affordability and operational capability we need to meet our requirements. This approach will deliver capabilities twice as fast, at a lower cost, designed and delivered in a fully digital enterprise. Exploiting model-based design, systems engineering and embedding the latest agile design principles to deliver faster. FCAS has already created over 1,800 new STEM jobs in over 300 companies nationwide, sustaining and supporting over 18,000 existing highly skilled jobs in the sector, as well as tens of thousands more in the wider supply chains across the UK.”
Left explicitly unstated was how the UK would fund FCAS. The IR was accompanied by a multiyear funding agreement to give the MOD an additional £16.5 billion ($22 billion) or approximately £4 billion ($5.3 billion) additional per year. Yet the DCP announced a number of high-profile RAF fleet retirements including the Typhoon Tranche 1, C-130J transport, Hawk T1 trainer and Sentry ISTAR fleets. Most significantly, the DCP cut F-35B procurement from 138 to 70-80 airframes. It appears that the RAF is paying for FCAS by cutting these legacy fleets and trimming F-35 procurement.
For further developments and analysis on budgeting, production and schedule refer to the Production & Delivery history section of the profile.
The UK FCAS system is still being defined but priority areas include: LO, power and thermal management (PTMS), next generation avionics and manned-unmanned teaming.
The UK unveiled a mockup Tempest at the 2018 Farnborough air show. BAE has since tested the same configuration in wind tunnels. However, the notional planform should not be assumed to represent a final production configuration. Rather, this very early marketing and promotion concept gives a general sense of desired airframe performance traits for Tempest.
Subtle differences exist between Tempest concept art provided by the MoD, BAE and RR. In general, the Tempest concept thus far features a prominent chinned nose and forebody leading into a pair of slender intakes and a large lambda wing. Notably, the planform retains a pair of canted vertical tails but lacks horizontal stabilizers as the lambda wings run the entire span of the fuselage aft of the canopy. This combination of design choices implies an emphasis on front sector LO and subsonic long-range cruise performance. Lateral aspect LO performance is likely degraded by the arrangement of the wing and lack of horizontal stabilizers to hide the engine nozzles from angled views. For example, the MHI F-X concept employs a pair of V-tail rudder-elevators aft of its large lambda wing for this role. Dassault has also explored V-tails and Lambda wings on its New Generation Fighter as part of FCAS.
MoD concept on top with RR concept on the bottom. Note the differences in vertical tail shaping and alterations in the forward chine arrangement. However, the unshielded engine nozzles are retained in both concepts. It’s again worth noting that these are promotional materials and not necessarily indicative of the final design.
The incorporation of vertical tails for rudder control also suggests less stringent VHF LO requirements when compared to what is likely being discussed for the USAF’s NGAD program. In terms of other airframe requirements, Tempest will store all of its fuel and weapons internally as with all LO aircraft. The Typhoon has an internal fuel capacity of approximately 10,200 lbs. but often sorties with up to three 1,000-liter external fuel tanks. In contrast, the F-22 features 18,000 lbs. of internal fuel and combat radius of 600 nm as it was designed to take off from bases in central England and establish air superiority over Central Europe.
The inherent consequences from large internal fuel stores, S-ducted inlets and internal weapon bays drives up internal fuselage volume which thereby increases empty weight and cost of 5th gen. relative to 4th gen. fighters. For example, the Typhoon has an empty weight of 24,600 lbs. and maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 51,800 lbs. relative to the Raptor’s 43,340 lbs. and 83,500 lbs. respectively. This phenomenon of heavier LO fighters has already been observed with the Franco-German-Spanish FCAS/SCAF program. The French have suggested the New Generation Fighter (NGF) will have a MTOW 22% greater than the preceding Rafale at 30 metric tons (66,138 lbs.) but 21% less than the Raptor. To improve affordability, it would be reasonable for the RAF to limit Tempest’s weight class to a point in between Typhoon and Raptor similar to NGF. Increases to airframe weight must also be overmatched by improvements in next-generation propulsion technologies.
As Tempest’s primary mission will be air dominance, the type will likely carry between six and eight missiles internally, but no official figures have been confirmed as of this time. In the offensive counter air (OCA) missile profile the Typhoon typically carries an assortment of four to six BVR missiles, two to four IR guided missiles, an internal 27 mm Mauser cannon with 150 rounds of ammunition as up to three 1,000 L fuel tanks.
Tempest may be armed with the Joint New Air-to-Air Missile (JNAAM) co-developed with Japan. The JNAMM is an effort by Japan and the UK integrate a Mitsubishi Electric (MELCO) active, electronically scanned array seeker into the MBDA Meteor ramjet powered missile. The seeker will leverage MELCO’s investment in the indigenous AAM-4 AAM’s AESA but miniaturized to fit within the confines of the smaller Meteor. The baseline Meteor has a launch weight of 419 lb. (190 kg), length of 12 ft. (3.65 meters) and diameter of 7 in. (178 centimeters). The ramjet enables the missile to reach Mach 4 and provides superior end-game maneuverability to ranges beyond 93 mi. (150 km) with a no escape zone greater than 37 mi. (60 km).
As of the time of this writing, the RAF is not outline plans to replace its MBDA AIM-132 Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missile (ASRAAM). The AIM-132 is a fifth generation, IR guided missile which features a 6.5 in. rocket motor – granting it a larger fuel capacity than the 5 in. Raytheon AIM-9X.
Tempest is expected to eventually be integrated with the MBDA Future Cruise/Anti-Ship Weapon (FC/ASW) which will replace the Storm Shadow/Scalp air launched cruise missiles used by the UK and France.