Tempest: The 6th Generation Fighter That May Never Fly

Tempest
May 16, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: TempestUKMilitaryDefenseNGAD6th Generation FighterAir Force

Tempest: The 6th Generation Fighter That May Never Fly

The UK’s Royal Air Force is developing the Tempest, a sixth-generation fighter jet, under the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) program, aiming for deployment by 2035. This ambitious initiative seeks to replace the aging Typhoon Eurofighter and includes advanced features like hypersonic weapons, drone swarm control, and modular weapons bays.

 

Summary: The UK’s Royal Air Force is developing the Tempest, a sixth-generation fighter jet, under the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) program, aiming for deployment by 2035. This ambitious initiative seeks to replace the aging Typhoon Eurofighter and includes advanced features like hypersonic weapons, drone swarm control, and modular weapons bays. However, Britain's military faces significant challenges, including underfunding, recruitment issues, and operational constraints.

Tempest

 

Key Points 

-While partnering with Japan and Italy in the Global Combat Air Program (GCAP) aims to share costs, the UK's ambition may outstrip its resources.

-The Tempest’s success hinges on securing additional international partners and overcoming deep-rooted military issues.

Tempest Fighter Jet: Will Britain's Ambitious Sixth-Gen Plan Succeed?

Work is progressing steadily on the British Royal Air Force’s Future Combat Air System (FCAS). A sixth-generation warplane program that is slated to hit the unfriendly skies by 2035, this program represents a massive investment by the Ministry of Defense in replacing the aging Typhoon Eurofighter that has served as Britain’s primary air-superiority fighter for decades. The new sixth-generation birds are known as the “Tempest.” 

If the RAF’s plans go accordingly, Britain could be deploying a truly next-generation warplane in the next decade. 

Tempest

The Tempest is the latest version of a sweeping military modernization campaign in Britain that has been underway since 2017-18. We have seen this modernization campaign play out within the Royal Navy, where the legendary service has acquired two brand new aircraft carriers, the HMS Queen Elizabeth and the HMSPrince of Wales.

Clearly, London desires to reclaim some of her lost imperial glory by revitalizing the ailing British Armed Forces and giving the dwindling military the weapons and platforms it needs to be a dominant and capable force in the 21st century.

Britain Can’t Meet Their Ambitious Goals Tempest Goals and Why it Matters 

Despite what many British defense planners may think, however, their plans for modernization are far too ambitious. Great Britain’s military woes are far deeper than just throwing gobs of money at the problem to build cooler systems. In fact, the British military has been enduring a recruitment crisis for many years. 

And while it’s true their equipment needs updating, successive British government have so badly underfunded the British military, that its capabilities from even a few decades ago have been severely minimized. In essence, British defense planners believe their military to be a global power. Britain is, at best, a middle or regional power in dire need of rebuilding its force from the ground-up.

Tempest

As observers of Britain’s carrier program have seen, the Royal Navy was able to build their new carriers. But staffing them and supplying them with an airwing has been a routine problem. There have also been some technical issues that have troubled the warships, notably the HMS Queen Elizabeth.

These problems do not appear to be under control. Nor can they be placed under control because the cost of these platforms and the resource and time commitment for maintaining them is far greater than what the British Armed Forces can afford.

The Tempest Specs are Important 

Similarly, the sixth-generation warplane that Britain is developing, while a technological marvel (at least as its concept drawings indicate), is going to break Britain’s budget. In terms of “wow” factor, on paper, the Tempest brings much to the table. 

The Tempest can, in theory, serve in either a manned or unmanned capacity. What’s more, the plane’s designers intend for the Tempest to be a vehicle for launching hypersonic, and even laser weapons, at enemy targets. The Tempest will control drone swarms as well. Those drone swarms, by the way, will be controlled by artificial intelligence. 

The weapons bay itself will have a modular design. 

This will allow for the Tempest to carry a major punch in combat. Some weapons it will fly into battle with will include the Meteor long-range, air-to-air missile system. Complimenting that will be the SPEAR-3 cruise missile as well as the ambiguously titled “Deep Strike” missiles. It must be stressed, however, none of this has been built and tested in the real world. The Tempest remains an expensive concept.

Britain Tries to Get Foreign Funding for the Tempest

The Brits were smart in terms of trying to address the obvious unaffordability of these birds. Learning from their American partners in peace with the F-35 Lightning II project, the British government opened up the Tempest program to allied countries as well. Japan and Italy are part of the Global Combat Air Program (GCAP) that is meant to burden-share the development of this advanced warbird.

The only problem facing Britain is that, unlike the American F-35 program, which has dozens of countries participating in the program—including the United Kingdom—is able to offset its cost with level of participation. 

F-35

The Tempest Program has only Italy and Japan. For the program to have a shot at affordability and being made worth Britain’s investment, London needs to find many more partners than they currently have slated to join them in the GCAP.

Britain long ago abandoned their empire. With it, the tiny island-nation’s ability to punch above its weight in geopolitics disappeared as well. It is now on its own and it must learn to operate as a regional great power rather than constantly trying to develop platforms that are more relevant to a global superpower rather than a medium-sized power. 

About the Author 

Brandon J. Weichert, a National Interest national security analyst, is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who is a contributor at The Washington Times, the Asia Times, and The-Pipeline. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower, Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life, and The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy. His next book, A Disaster of Our Own Making: How the West Lost Ukraine, is due October 22 from Encounter Books. Weichert can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.