In December, the UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) revealed a new artist's rendering of the future sixth-generation "Tempest" multirole fighter jet, which promises to leapfrog the capabilities of the world's most advanced combat aircraft including the F-35, F-22, J-20, and Su-57.
A MoD report noted that "Team Tempest" – the BAE Systems program that is working on the development of the proposed fighter aircraft for eventual use with the Royal Air Force (RAF) and Italian Air Force (AMI) – would strengthen industry relationships across the UK. There are more than 600 organizations involved in the development of the advanced aircraft including small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and even academia. The MoD has also suggested that Team Tempest is "transforming traditional relationships with partners and widening the endeavor to bring in the very best of the UK capability and expertise from both inside and outside of defence."
As Business Insider reported, the companies involved in the program include a "laundry list" of defense contractors and that includes not only the aircraft program lead BAE Systems, but also Rolls-Royce, Leonardo and MBDA among literally dozens upon dozens of others.
However, the Tempest stealth fighter program isn't just huge in scale, but also in cost to the British taxpayer.
Tempest Stealth Fighter: Just Too Expensive?
It has been announced that two billion pounds would be spent by the British government on the project by 2025, and critics contend that it could become a proverbial black hole.
A National Audit Office (NAO) report published last month "chastised" the MoD for presenting an unaffordable equipment plan for the fourth year in a row, Financial Times reported. The equipment budget has been estimated to be as high as £17.4 billion – and according to the NAO report did not include the full cost of flagship projects such as the Tempest program.
The MoD has also described the Tempest as one of the UK's most ambitious technological endeavors, and it is expected to form part of a wider combat air system when it comes into service in the mid-2030s. It is expected that the aircraft would be able to gather and process "the equivalent to the Internet traffic of a large city every second."
Additionally, the aircraft could operate with its own fleet of mini-autonomous drone aircraft that could extend the Tempest's sensor range, help engage targets and even act as decoys that could help protect the crewed aircraft.
Other sixth-generation technologies on the Tempest could include it being optionally-manned as well as having the ability to mount hypersonic or directed energy weapons. The goal has been for the program to finalize its designs by the early 2020s, meaning sometime soon, while a flyable prototype is planned for 2025.
Yet, costs have been an issue – and to come up with the money, the UK has considered reducing its F-35 order so as to funnel the money toward the Tempest. The question is whether this ambitious aircraft could truly leapfrog the fifth-generation or whether it will be simply too complicated and expensive to ever take off.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.