Home Air UK sets sights on 2027 for first combat air system demonstrator flight

UK sets sights on 2027 for first combat air system demonstrator flight

Royal Air Force FCAS illustration Tempest
Photo: UK defense ministry

The UK defense ministry plans to fly the first demonstrator of its Future Combat Air System (FCAS) within the next five years.

The timeline was unveiled at the Farnborough airshow, as the future combat air program launches a new recruitment and skills initiative known as Generation Tempest.

The demonstrator aircraft is already in development between the government and Team Tempest industry partners and the UK is actively progressing collaboration opportunities on the project with Italian industry partners, the defense ministry said.

The flying demonstrator will be a piloted supersonic aircraft testing a range of new technologies including integration of stealth compatible features. This is the first time the UK will have developed a new fast aircraft using 21st century technology.

Development of the demonstrator is underway at BAE Systems’ facility near Preston in the north of England. Designing and building the flying demonstrator will prove integration and test skills. It will also provide invaluable data and lessons to UK industry to support the introduction of a new FCAS aircraft from 2035.

Separately, the UK is now conducting joint concept analysis with partners Japan and Italy to understand areas of shared interest and to explore potential future combat air partnership options and continues to explore wider partnerships.

Decisions on the potential international cooperation in the FCAS program are expected to be made by the end of 2022, the defense ministry added. Like the UK, both Japan and Italy operate F-35 fighter jets and the nations have undertaken joint exercises together in the past.

“I am delighted that the UK, alongside Italy, Japan and Sweden are working on the same combat air journey together,” UK defense secretary Ben Wallace said.

“Our work with Japan and Italy on cutting-edge technologies like this, shows the benefit of our alliances across the world.”

Team Tempest partners, BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Leonardo UK and MBDA UK, aim to hire an additional 1,300 early careers starters by the end of 2023.

“FCAS is an exciting, dynamic and inclusive program, needing a diversity of people, ideas and skills working together. We are recruiting fresh talent who will lead FCAS, delivering one of the world’s most important defense programs,” UK Director Future Combat Air Richard Berthon said.

Team Tempest are already showcasing technological advances achieved under the program at Farnborough Airshow this week.

Rolls-Royce Defence has delivered a new gas turbine demonstrator engine, known as Orpheus, designed, built and tested in under two years to prove innovative technology developments for FCAS. Working with international partners, the company has also agreed the next stage of the full-scale engine demonstrator program.

BAE Systems has used digital transformation to design and build a representative military fast jet fuselage, demonstrating how innovative technologies can transform the design and manufacturing capability for Tempest. Commercial robots were adapted and utilised, and 65% of the parts were guided into location using automation.

Leonardo UK and Japan’s Mitsubishi Electric have agreed the concept for a radar technology demonstrator called JAGUAR, first unveiled in February, following the completion of joint concept work and feasibility studies earlier this year.
Leonardo has also revealed ongoing bilateral work to support the future electronics on-board the FCAS program.

Leonardo in the UK and in Italy are working together on a number of projects with Elettronica in Italy including joint assessment of potential architecture of a common Integrated Sensing and Non-Kinetic Effects (ISANKE) and Integrated Communications System. The work is complementary to ongoing collaboration with Japan on 6th generation sensor capabilities, an area in which Italy will soon be involved.

MBDA unveiled its concept for a weapon effects management system, to aid the coordination of all available weapons in the battle space using artificial intelligence and machine learning enhanced software.