The time to shape the future is now

The time to shape the future is now

The way to shape the future is through the Future Combat Air Strategy and Team Tempest

At the Farnborough International Air Show in July last year, the Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson, launched the UK’s Future Combat Air Strategy, known as FCAS, and unveiled the development of a Technology Innovation (TI) programme that would inform the design and development of a new generation of fighter aircraft. Central to that strategy was the creation of ‘Team Tempest’, an innovative Government-industry partnership that will likely expand with global collaboration to capitalise on global capabilities and skills, while putting the UK in the driving seat. The Tempest air platform will explore the technologies and that will be key to FCAS, but delivered against a challenging and ambitious timeline. The programme aims to meet an in-service date in the mid-2030s to synchronise with Typhoon’s retirement date at the end of the decade, and to operate alongside the F-35 Lightning. FCAS is critical to the UK, but not just in delivering a game-changing operational and technical military advantage – the programme is also a vehicle to help industry develop world-leading research, technologies and capabilities.

In March this year the wider aerospace community came together with the MOD and Team Tempest, to better understand the FCAS and Tempest TI programme and how it had evolved since the Farnborough announcement. The Industry briefing event described the maturing programme aims, crystallising industry involvement and identified what effects and outcomes would be expected. So why FCAS, now? History has shown that it takes time, and a lot of investment, to develop new capabilities to counter threats from adversaries; the Combat Air Environment is no exception. With increasing complexity and proliferation of advanced surveillance, detection and weapon systems; an increasing threat of cyber-attack; a thirst for information dominance; use of directed energy weapons; and a need for resilience and growth potential for future systems, the challenge for any future programme is quite clear. However, such aspirations command an expensive price tag that affects the Through Life Cost associated with development, acquisition and operation. Add-in an increasing demand for integrated networks and disruptive technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence, and the fiscal challenge is greater still.

Announcing FCAS the UK Government has matched industry funding from BAE Systems, Rolls Royce, Leonardo and MBDA to make £2 billion available over nine years to develop the technologies, jointly. Not only is this about the UK developing its design and manufacturing capability but also about investing in engineering upskilling and generating crucial UK Intellectual Property. Areas such as additive production and 3D printing, exploiting the efficiencies of delivery to market, harnessing cost reduction opportunities and increasing the technical and operational effectiveness of the end solution are all fundamental to the programme’s success. Such progress comes with distinct risks which all demand reduction and mitigation through extensive testing and development. With clear milestones and deliverables, it will be essential that the schedule is met and for confidence to be built in programme-delivery.

For BAE Systems, Leonardo, MBDA and Rolls-Royce, there is a clear need to engage the support of the SME community, to provide support and contribute to the programme’s development and progression. So, Team Tempest has called on industry to invest and work together to develop tomorrow’s technology and to become trusted to perform and deliver. To quote the Team:

“What’s important?

  • The ability to rapidly develop UK Intellectual Property (IP) based technology
  • Have affordability and upgradeability as key tenets of all solutions
  • Be committed to winning in export markets”

What does the future look like? Currently a conceptual mock-up of an aircraft was unveiled to the public at Farnborough. It encompassed some significant design pointers towards the future: all weapon systems carriage will be internal to the aircraft with no traditional external pylons. There will be options for an unmanned capability, and open architectures will develop a step change in the user’s ability to modify and upgrade the platform and its systems. There will need to be a step change in electrical power generation and storage to power news systems and weapons, including directed energy and hypersonics.

As a company that has thrived when faced with complex engineering challenges such as the design and manufacture of Concorde’s ‘nose’, we relish the opportunity to bring our innovative approach and modern manufacturing capabilities to bear to support Team Tempest today, to deliver the future, tomorrow.