Meet Tempest: In September, the UK's BAE Systems, Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and Italy's Leonardo agreed to the next steps to deliver the concept phase of a next-generation combat aircraft. The three nations agreed last December to collaborate on the development of an advanced front-line fighter.
The new Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP) agreement will support discussions to determine arrangements and capability requirements for the new aircraft that is set to enter service by the middle of the next decade.
"This international partnership with Italy atmpnd Japan to create and design the next generation of combat aircraft represents the best collaboration of cutting-edge defense technology and expertise shared across our nations, providing highly skilled jobs across the sector and long-term security for Britain and our allies," then-U.K. Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace said in a press release announcing GCAP last December.
Tempest: The UK's Sixth-Generation Fighter
It was five years ago, at the Farnborough Air Show that the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defence announced that a new jet fighter program was in the works. It was dubbed the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) – which certainly caused some confusion as the same name is employed by the rival French-German-Spanish effort also underway – but since that time it has come to be known as the "Tempest."
At last year's Farnborough Air Show, the MoD announced that a fighter demonstrator could be unveiled within five years. That demonstrator has been seen as vital for ensuring that the technology, skills, and industrial capability are all in place to produce the aircraft. Designing and building the flying demonstrator will also improve integration and test skills, while it will further provide invaluable data and lessons to the UK industry to support the introduction of a new FCAS aircraft by 2035.
The UK Defence Ministry further signed a £250 million contract with the Tempest partners to push forward its next-generation fighter aircraft program. It is expected to combine a core aircraft with a whole network of capabilities such as uncrewed aircraft and advanced data systems to form a next-generation platform designed to enter service from the mid-2030s.
The UK Government had also announced £656 million (US$815 million) of funding for the program with an additional £1.4 billion (US$1.7 billion) planned for the next two years.
A Coalition Program
It was in December 2022, following months of speculation, the British-led Team Tempest officially was joined by a new partner – as Japan announced that it will join the British-Italian sixth-generation fighter program. There had been months of speculation that Tokyo would join the international effort, merging its F-X fighter program with Tempest.
Late last year, it was further announced that this British-Italian-Japanese endeavor would have the moniker Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP). It also highlights the close government, military, and industrial links between the nations and reinforces the UK’s international commitment to future air combat.
The program would build on the substantial progress already made in the UK by BAE Systems, Leonardo UK, MBDA UK, Rolls-Royce, and the UK Ministry of Defence who have been working in partnership since 2018 as Team Tempest to research, evaluate, and develop a host of next-generation future combat air systems capabilities.
According to the latest reports Tempest is more than a single aircraft – and much like the United States Air Force's Next Generation Air Domination (NGAD) program, the GCAP would be a system of systems, built around a sixth-generation fighter.
A mock-up of the future aircraft has been displayed at recent air shows. It is a modular design that features delta-wings and a pair of outwards-pointing vertical stabilizers.
The Tempest fighter is also being designed so that it could be flown remotely, or with a human in-cockpit pilot who is assisted by a virtual "avatar" co-pilot, which will be programmed to react to different scenarios. In addition, it will likely operate with a number of "loyal wingmen" drones – and could even have the ability to launch drone swarms against an adversary's aircraft.
The GCAP could further utilize a variety of "wearable cockpit" technologies, which would replace physical controls with augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), including displays that are projected directly inside the visor of the pilot’s helmet. The multi-modal cockpit could further provide a number of different ways the aircrew will interact with the system, including voice, gesture, eye tracking, digital controls, or via traditional HOTAS (Hands-On Throttle And Stick) controls.
The Italian-based Leonardo has disclosed that it is developing new radar technology for Tempest. Its Multi-Function Radio Frequency System (MRFS) is designed to collect and process unprecedented amounts of data, which has been described as being equivalent to "the internet traffic of a large city." MRFS is being designed to work beyond the boundaries of traditional radar, with digital technology providing the operator with a clear view of the battlespace and of potential targets, "helping it win the information war."
Author Experience and Expertise
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.