UK Tempest fighter program embraces ‘digital revolution’
Royal Air Force Concept Art
LONDON – Three years after the UK and partners announced the development of a sixth-generation jet fighter known as Tempest, technological maturation continues with the program incorporating digital engineering concepts to shorten its timeline of development.
Tempest, also known as Future Combat Air System, or FCAS, in the UK, is being developed by the British, Swedish and Italian Air Forces and their respective prime contractors, BAE Systems, SAAB and Leonardo.
Recently, Japan joined the program with limited capacity.
While the initiative began in 2015, it was only three years later that the Tempest program was unveiled at the Farnborough International Airshow. Its concept requires that the platform be inhabited or unmanned and capable of controlling “swarms” of smaller drones.
Air Commodore Jonny Moreton, director of the Royal Air Force’s future air combat program, said the project was still in the design and development phase.
“The purpose of this phase is to watch the progress, to take stock. And then, at the end of 2025, go to our governments, the UK, Italy, Sweden – and potentially Japan – and say, “This is the program. This is what we can deliver. That’s the schedule, ”he told the Defense and Security Equipment International conference in London in September.
The respective governments will then make a decision on how to proceed, he added.
Meanwhile, some 2,000 workers are already engaged in development and reside in around 300 companies or institutions, said Air Commodore Jez Holmes, head of the Royal Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office.
Collins Aerospace, Rolls-Royce and MBDA are among the other main contractors involved in the project.
“We have made tremendous progress. From a UK perspective it was really important to make sure that we re-develop those design skills that are so important to be at the heart of production capacity, ”said Holmes.
The program encompasses digital engineering, including concepts such as digital twins, as well as additive manufacturing to dramatically reduce the time required to design, develop and produce a new generation of fighter jets.
This accelerated schedule is one of the main goals of the program, Moreton said. “One of the goals is to break the 40 year cycle where something is designed, developed and built and after 20 years in the air, start thinking about what’s next and then ask yourself, ‘Where has my industrial expertise? “
Tempest is aiming for a development cycle of 10 to 15 years and will fly its first aircraft by 2035, he added.
The program encompasses digital engineering concepts that former U.S. Air Force procurement chief Will Roper espoused before leaving government service. Roper’s name and concepts were mentioned several times during the conference roundtables.
Roper, who has now become a senior advisor at Pallas Advisors, a consultancy firm, is an advisor to the program, Moreton acknowledged.
“Will Roper is hired at a very low level as a program advisor… to challenge us and ask us tough questions and for us to ask him about his experiences,” Moreton said.
The “digital engineering revolution” will not only help significantly reduce Tempest’s development schedule, but will also help solve the requirements conundrum that plagued past programs, company officials said. .
Moreton spoke of the need to “be forward looking” for the Tempest. The problem with past jet fighter programs was their decades-long development schedule. Defining the requirements too early and setting them in stone made planes obsolete by the time they were finally deployed.
“Sovereignty” and “freedom” were two buzzwords that industry and government officials repeated frequently.
Unlike the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, which has also started to develop as an international program, but under the leadership of the United States, partner nations will be free to modify and upgrade the aircraft. as they see fit.
“Freedom of action, freedom of modification and sovereign control” are attractive to potential new partners, Moreton said.
One of these potential new partners is Japan. While the nation is not yet officially a partner, a Japanese flag has flown over the Royal Air Force’s Tempest exhibit along with Sweden, Italy and the United Kingdom, during the DSEI exhibit.
Moreton said Japan is currently carrying out an energy study for the program. It would be a good partner as it is developing its own sixth-generation jet fighter, the FX, with an identical 2035 timeline, and operating in a similar threat environment, he added.
Michael Christie, FCAS Program Director for BAE Systems, welcomed Japan as a partner because it has deep industrial capabilities.
The Tempest program “needs agility and flexibility to add new partners,” he said. “The system will change. The threats will change and the requirements will change, ”he added.
“We’re not going to cut the program and do it like we did in previous programs. We’re going to behave as one program, powered by one company, and behave as one program again, ”he said.
The UK was one of the Tier 1 international partners of the F-35 program and contributed 10% of its development costs, although none of the speakers mentioned it by name.
Christie said, “Our goal was to create something that everyone benefits from, and I think that’s a very different collaborative goal. [compared to] some of the other collaborative programs in recent decades.
“We will not achieve this if we all behave like three organizations concerned with our own values and our own agendas. We have to create a unique program, ”he said.
“Don’t behave like shareholders,” he warned.
Holmes said: “As we bring in partners from Italy, Sweden and Japan, we can only get stronger. “
Work continues on various subsystems and concepts.
Conrad Banks, chief engineer for future programs at Rolls-Royce, said the current concept is for Tempest to have a hybrid engine.
There are now 500 engineers working in the company on the program, he said.
“We are adopting gas turbines and power systems as an integrated power system,” he said, describing the concept as a “flying powerhouse”.
It could generate 10 times more electricity than the Eurofighter Typhoon, another aircraft developed by an international consortium.
This power could be used for sensors, avionics and directed energy weapons, he said.
“We are not turning our backs on gas turbines, we are adopting gas turbines, with electrical systems,” he added.
An integrated fuel system will control the complex exchange between jet fuel and electrical systems. It won’t be any different from hybrid cars where drivers enter their travel plans in advance so the computer can calculate when they’ll need an extra boost in places like highways.
“We have a smart energy manager – under development as part of the Tempest program – that decides whether electrical power is going to shift from the gas turbine to charging the batteries, or vice versa,” Banks said.
An intelligent agent in computer algorithms will learn the best way to use energy.
It “learns the most efficient way to move power from coil to coil, from motor coils to battery from battery to motor,” he said.
Meanwhile, Leonardo has contracted with UK supplier 2Excel Aviation to equip a Boeing 757-200 airliner to serve as a test bed for the Tempest program.
The flight test aircraft, dubbed “Excalibur”, will be used to perform sensor fusion, autonomous operations, communications and provide a “real world” platform for an aircraft that is being developed extensively through the use of technology. digital engineering, according to a press release.
The “flying lab” is being considered for later stages of the program, he said.
Holmes said real-world testing on the plane would be essential.
“When we look at sensors, it’s important to test them in a representative environment. They will often perform well on the test bench and in the labs, but when you place them in the real environment – it clutters the real. [electronic warfare] environment – it is much more difficult.
A member of the audience asked Holmes about the possible sacrifices the Tempest might make to become stealthy. Was there a desire to achieve higher aircraft performance than the Typhoon or would some performance be sacrificed for stealth, which was the case with the F-35?
Information will be the key to victory and defeat in future wars, he said.
“And so our goal is absolutely to make sure that the architecture of the sensors and information is correct. And we could, if necessary, modify other capacities for that, ”he said, adding that he did not want to go into details in public.
“But we understand what’s important to us,” he said.
Richard Berthon, Director of Future Air Combat at the UK Ministry of Defense, said: “The UK and our international partners are stepping up towards a very dynamic agenda.
A “digital revolution” could spark skepticism, he said.
“Anything with the word ‘revolution’ in it and you should probably be wary and skeptical if they mean anything new rather than just business as usual. But I sincerely believe that we all have something revolutionary, on many different levels, ”he said.
The subjects: Air Power, Global Defense Market, International