Britain and Sweden To Partner on Future Combat Air Requirements

 - July 22, 2019, 4:10 AM
An RAF Typhoon was displayed alongside a Swedish air force Gripen during the RIAT show at Fairford to highlight the new partnership. (photo: David Donald)

On July 18, Britain and Sweden signed a Memorandum of Understanding to partner on “future combat air.” The agreement was inked by Britain’s Defence Secretary, Penny Mordaunt, and her Swedish counterpart, Peter Hultqvist, before an announcement ceremony at the Royal International Air Tattoo at Fairford the following day.

During this event, news of the agreement was greeted warmly by Hultqvist, the British Minister of Defence Procurement Stuart Andrew, UK Chief of the Air Staff Air Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier, Swedish Air Force Chief Major General Mats Helgesson, CEO of BAE Systems Charles Woodburn, and chairman of Saab AB Marcus Wallenberg.

The landmark agreement is an overarching arrangement that commits both governments to work on a joint combat air development and acquisition program. This will provide for the development of new concepts to meet both nations’ future requirements. It will include a joint acquisition roadmap that identifies advanced technologies that can be inserted into Gripen and Typhoon before employing them in a future combat air system, as well as technologies from Gripen E and Typhoon that could be “spiraled” onto a Future Combat Air System.

The agreement outlined the initial principles for an Anglo-Swedish acquisition program and allows for additional activities to be taken forward, including contracts. The agreement will not see Sweden join Britain’s Team Tempest, at least for now.

Team Tempest is a co-funded partnership between the RAF’s Rapid Capabilities Office and UK Industry (BAE Systems, Leonardo UK, MBDA UK, and Rolls-Royce) responsible for a Future Combat Air System feasibility study and technology demonstration program, including operational analysis and an analysis of alternatives. Sweden has not (so far) joined the UK’s Combat Air Acquisition Programme (led by the UK MOD), which is tasked with delivering the acquisition program that will eventually replace the RAF’s Eurofighter Typhoons, and whose work is informed by Team Tempest.

The new Anglo-Swedish partnership will initially take the form of a wider study that may or may not lead to the development of an Anglo-Swedish future combat aircraft—or that may or may not see Sweden formally join the Tempest program. For the time being, Sweden will work with Team Tempest in a new partnership, with the two nations pooling their expertise.

The Anglo-Swedish agreement has been predicted for some time, and a joint feasibility report was completed by the two governments in April 2019, following a joint report by British and Swedish Industry. The report’s findings were accepted by ministers in May.

Both Britain and Sweden are determined to remain at the forefront of combat air and have similar future combat air requirements, including any new system being optimized for air defense. The developing threat environment means that, in future, Sweden could require a heavier, more capable combat aircraft than Gripen, as well as “additive capabilities” such as unmanned “loyal wingmen,” which are also being studied under the auspices of Tempest.

More nations may join the UK/Swedish effort if they have similar requirements.