Last December, the Royal Air Force Capabilities Office and the branch’s Team Tempest held a virtual briefing to provide updates regarding their forthcoming 6th generation fighter dubbed “Tempest.” Along with industry updates and discussion about the program’s progress, the UK’s Ministry of Defence also revealed a new artist’s rendering of the new fighter (shown above).
Team Tempest includes a laundry list of defense contractors who are currently working on facets of the forthcoming aircraft, and they’ve made some lofy claims about what this new fighter will be able to do. Industry partners involved in the program include BAE Systems (the aircraft lead), Rolls-Royce, Leonardo, and MBDA.
“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,” UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said.
Like the U.S. Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance program (NGAD), the Tempest aims to leapfrog the capabilities offered by the world’s most advanced fighter jets in operation today–5th generation fighters like the F-35, F-22, J-20, and Su-57. However, the leap from the 5th to 6th generation is more about marketing than it is about function. Generational designations are effectively just industry shorthand to describe the design and production process that went into a platform.
While there are no formal requirements for the informal title of “6th generation” fighter, there are a number of assumptions defense experts have made regarding the capabilities such a jet would need to bring to the table. You can read a more thorough breakdown of those capabilities in our analysis of the 6th generation of fighters here. In the interest of brevity, some anticipated capabilities include the use of artificial intelligence to assist the pilot, the ability to manage drones in support of the fighter, and all the advancements that came along in the 5th generation, including stealth and data fusion.
According to this graphic created by BAE Systems, the Tempest promises to meet each of those requirements.
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“Tempest is one of the UK’s most ambitious technological endeavours and designed to deliver a highly advanced, adaptable combat air system to come into service from the mid-2030s. This next generation combat aircraft, which forms part of a wider combat air system, will exploit new technologies as they evolve to respond to the changing nature of the battlespace, addressing increasingly high-tech and complex threats and conflict.”-UK Ministry of Defence statement
In order to build upon the data fusion success of flying supercomputers like the F-35, Tempest’s project lead for electronics and avionics Leonardo has been developing a new Multi-Function Radar Frequency System specifically for the new fighter.
This system will leverage massive amounts of computing power to collect and process a claimed 10,000 times the data of existing radar systems. As Leonardo puts it, the Tempest will be able to gather and process the “equivalent to the internet traffic of a large city every second,” offering its pilot a positively unmatched degree of situational awareness. If the F-35 is considered a “quarterback in the sky,” Leonardo hopes to make the Tempest into an offensive coordinator.
In keeping with that breadth of awareness, BAE aims to create what would effectively be a virtual cockpit pilots will use in conjunction with a similar augmented reality interface to that of the F-35. Pilots would be able to customize every facet of the cockpit around them, using digital switches that can be rapidly re-mapped to serve different roles. The helmet interface and heads up display would allow the pilot to place the information they need where they can use it most.
Related: Everything you need to know about fighter generations
Not to be outdone, Rolls Royce is working on a new propulsion system that will burn hotter than previous engines. These new engines are expected to be more efficient and powerful that past iterations, creating the significant power spurless Tempest will need to leverage directed energy weapons that are likely to come. The aircraft’s heat dissipation will also be manageable, according to BAE, so pilots can prioritize capability over stealth, or vice versa.
And like the U.S. Air Force’s Skyborg program, Australia and Boeing’s Loyal Wingman, or Russia’s recent efforts to pair their Su-57 with the Hunter UCAV, the Tempest will be designed to operate with its own flock of drones. These drones will extend the Tempest’s sensor reach, engage targets on the pilot’s behalf, and potentially even sacrifice themselves to save the crewed aircraft from inbound attack.
Related: Is Russia’s Su-57 the worst stealth fighter on the planet?
All that is to say that the Tempest has made some big promises, though arguably no bigger than those of the U.S., China, or Russia’s 6th generation fight programs. The question will really be, who will be able to deliver these new capabilities first, and ultimately, who will do it best?
Read more from Sandboxx News:
- Why 5th Generation ‘Minus’ fighters are the future
- Is Russia’s Su-57 the worst stealth fighter on the planet?
- Checkmate: The details on Russia’s new stealth fighter revealed
- The Air Force wants a new fighter to fill in for the F-35
- China’s J-20 stealth fighter is gaining on America’s top jets
This article was originally published 12/11/2020
J Blyther says
The UK can do these projects, as long as the bean counters do not interfere too much and try and force partnerships that do not work and end up causing cost inflation and delays.
If you look at the euro fighter, before that was built the uk built the BAE EFA ( experimental fighter aircraft ) it looks like a early euro fighter.
The best partners for the uk in the past and present are Sweden and Japan.
In the past both countries were not that keen on exporting there military products, for various reasons. So that would have helped the uk out with trying to win foreign orders.
Ray Van Dune says
“… uk, france, japan, south korea and may be india…”
Bringing in so many partners will just guarantee that the consortium will leak like a sieve, and the Russians and Chinese will get the technology as soon as you do!
Either the U.K. goes alone, or 50-50 UK – US, and no body has a veto.
Richard McEnroe says
Bumf and bushwah.
CC Coleman says
They will spend billions on it just to drop it right before it goes into production. Plus it will have Lucas Electronics so…
Bill Chunko says
Wow! That’s an absolutely incredible airplane, on paper.
Marc F Rittner says
Does the U.K. really have the money to do this? Or are they just negotiating for a better price on F35’s?
I believe that they have the money, but the question is, do they have the will to keep the spending in place as other demands are made on a limited budget? I think they can and will, because the only other choice is a trip to the back seat, much like what happened to Canada when they cancelled the Avro Arrow.
The UK was a part of the Eurofighter consortium and maintained a state of the world R&D capability by sharing the expense with France, Italy and Germany, mainly. Now the UK will have to should all the expense, but they can do it if they choose to.
“shoulder all the expense” Argh…
unless uk, france, japan, south korea and may be india pull their resources these 5.5-6 gen fighters will not be financially viable as the production of these has to be more then 1000+ fighters. (without US veto)