Tempest On Course To Be an Air Combat Game-changer

 - July 22, 2020, 10:07 AM
The Tempest fighter serves as the centerpoint of a wider future combat air system. (Photo: BAE Systems)

Speakers at a series of FIA Connect webinars this week have underlined the revolutionary way in which the Tempest program partners have undertaken development of a future combat air system (FCAS), as well as its significant effects on the national skills base, economy, defense industrial capabilities, and the ability of air forces to maintain an operational advantage.

The program is adopting new processes and new ways of approaching challenges to not only make the Tempest FCAS a "system-of-systems," capable of defeating the threat and successfully achieving desired effects in future operations, but one achieved with maximum development and manufacturing efficiency to reduce costs and development times to around half of what can be achieved traditionally.

“We need a game-changer, we need new approaches,” said Dave Holmes, manufacturing director-air at BAE Systems. “It’s important for the national skills base.” Tempest has to “drive a step-change in pace [of development] as well as in capabilities,” he added.

At the core of the development program is a far greater accent on collaboration than on earlier combat air projects, not only between UK companies but also internationally. The UK’s own Team Tempest now benefits from the industrial expertise of Italy and Sweden in a tri-national effort. Working together not only draws innovations from all parts of the industry, including SMEs, but greatly reduces the duplication of efforts and, therefore, costs.

Work on FCAS technology continues on a national basis, but the three partner nations are rapidly establishing a robust platform to merge efforts in the near future to kick-start the main development phase of the program. A trilateral study revealed encouraging results in terms of benefits for the partner nations, permitting them to retain their national skills bases and to ensure their global standing in the defense industry for years to come, while still maintaining their national freedom of action.

What became clear at an early stage of study was that the three countries share close alignments in terms of a national vision for industry and economy, and combat air requirements. The industries and air forces themselves are also closely aligned in many ways: the UK and Italy, for example, have both operated the same primary aircraft types in recent decades—Tornado, Typhoon and F-35—and have both worked closely as major partners in the multinational industrial programs that developed and produced them.

As far as the UK is concerned, Team Tempest has already achieved considerable successes in a rapid time period and is on track to meet its objectives as it prepares to submit an outline business case to government around the end of the year to secure more funding. Since the launch of the combat air strategy program at Farnborough in July 2018, the nation has over 60 technology demonstrations underway, some of which are already showing levels of maturity beyond their objectives, with design engineering tasks exhibiting at least a ten-fold reduction in times. Others have achieved desired results on as little as 10 percent of the manpower required for similar tasks using traditional methods. Around 1,500 people now work on the Tempest project in the UK.

Tempest’s new approach to development involves bringing in innovations from outside the defense sector, drawing on commercial technology brought in from power, nuclear, and automotive industries, for example. The financial sector is also being studied to provide significant technological assistance in the crucial field of cybersecurity.

The Tempest development program will also see technology cascading into industries outside defense and aerospace, as well as into current combat aircraft such as the Eurofighter Typhoon and Saab Gripen. The latter is important not only in terms of operational effectiveness but in maintaining the credibility of those types in the export market until the Tempest itself can be exported.