Britain’s Prime Minister (PM) Rishi Sunak has announced a partnership between the UK, Italy, and Japan in an ambitious project to develop the fighter jet of the future. It will be called the “Tempest.”
Due to fly by 2035, Tempest is conceived as a sixth-generation stealth fighter with a network of capabilities: The ability to operate manned or unmanned; control swarms of attack drones; present a low radar profile; have innovative data systems, and be armed with cutting-edge weapons such as hypersonic missiles.
This advanced aircraft will be delivered through the Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP) — a partnership between London, Rome and Tokyo.
Britain and Italy have been developing the Tempest to rival an aircraft being built by a Franco-German coalition: Future Combat Air System (FCAS). Japan joined the British-Italian partnership in July and the agreement is likely to be finalised this year.
Meanwhile, reports indicate that the UK has held talks with India on joining the coalition (Business Standard, February 8, 2019, UK to invite India to co-develop sixth-generation fighter aircraft Tempest).
The so-called Team Tempest, which will develop this futuristic fighter, includes BAE Systems as the lead integrator, Rolls-Royce for the engines, Leonardo UK for sensors, and MBDA UK for missile systems.
Team Tempest officials say they will choose international partners based on four parameters, all of which India possesses: A large air force that can buy aircraft in large numbers; a large defence budget to pay development costs; industrial capability to play a useful development role; and international influence to support the alliance.
“The UK will work with Italy and Japan to adapt and respond to the security threats of the future, through an unprecedented international aerospace coalition announced by the PM on Friday,” stated a release from Sunak’s office in London.
During a visit to the Royal Air Force (RAF) base at Coningsby on Friday, Sunak viewed the Eurofighter Typhoon fighter which has formed the heart of British air defence for two decades. The Tempest is expected to replace the Typhoon when it comes out of service.
“GCAP sits alongside our other defence cooperation with international allies, including the Australia-UK-US (AUKUS) partnership and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) — to which the UK remains the leading European contributor,” stated a UK government release.
By combining forces with Italy and Japan, the UK says it will utilise their expertise, share costs, and ensure the RAF remains interoperable with its close partners. London says the project is expected to create skilled jobs in all three countries, strengthen their industrial bases, and drive innovation with benefits beyond pure military use.
The British defence industry is already a world leader in advanced aerospace engineering. At BAE Systems’ new “factory of the future” in Lancashire, for example, the company is pioneering the use of advanced 3D printing and autonomous robotics in military aircraft.
A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers last year suggested the UK taking a core role in a combat air system could support an average of 21,000 jobs a year and contribute an estimated £26.2 billion to the economy by 2050.
It is anticipated that more like-minded countries may buy into GCAP in due course or collaborate on wider capabilities, boosting UK exports. The combat aircraft developed through GCAP is also expected to be compatible with other NATO partners’ fighter jets.
The UK, Italy, and Japan will now work intensively to establish the core platform for the Tempest concept and set up the structures needed to launch the development phase in 2024. Before that, the partners will also have to agree on cost-sharing arrangements, based on a joint assessment of costs and national budgets.