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Tempest fighter jet project gets £656m funding for tech development

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An artist's impression of how the aircraft could look (Credit: BAE Systems)
An artist's impression of how the aircraft could look (Credit: BAE Systems)

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has awarded £656m to BAE Systems to develop further concepts and technology for the next-generation Tempest fighter jet.

The contract extension will build on work already completed by partners BAE, Leonardo UK, MBDA UK and Rolls-Royce, and will fund development of more than 60 technology demonstrations, digital concepts and new technologies.

Tempest, part of the Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP) with Japan and Italy, is due to enter service with the Royal Air Force by 2035.  

The aircraft is designed to be an ‘innovative stealth fighter’ with supersonic capability, equipped with cutting-edge technologies including state-of-the-art sensing and protection capabilities. “This will make the aircraft one of the world’s most advanced, interoperable, adaptable and connected fighter jets in service,” BAE Systems said today (14 April) as it announced the new funding.

The project aims to explore and potentially integrate technologies including the ability to work alongside ‘loyal wingman’ uncrewed aircraft.

BAE previously announced plans to replace most of the aircraft’s physical controls with augmented-reality and virtual-reality (AR and VR) systems projected directly inside the visor of a pilot’s helmet. Known as the ‘wearable cockpit’, the technology is designed to provide pilots and ground operators with split-second advantages, as well as providing ‘instant’ configurability before missions. 

New radar technology on the Tempest will also capture data equivalent to the internet traffic of Edinburgh every second, its development team previously said.

Speaking today, defence secretary Ben Wallace said: “The next tranche of funding for future combat air will help fuse the combined technologies and expertise we have with our international partners – both in Europe and the Pacific – to deliver this world-leading fighter jet by 2035, protecting our skies for decades to come.”

Richard Berthon, MOD director of future combat aircraft, said: “We are facing a growing threat from our adversaries, who are investing in combat air and air defences of their own. By investing in GCAP, we will stay ahead of these intensifying and proliferating threats, and provide a highly credible deterrent capability for decades to come.”

More than 2,800 people are working on the project at the UK partners and wider industry, with almost 600 organisations on contract, including SMEs and academic institutions.

Work on the programme is driving investment in new digital technologies, tools and techniques, BAE said, including model-based systems engineering with open architectures, ‘digital twins’ and virtual environments. “This will ensure the next generation combat aircraft will be delivered more rapidly and more cost-effectively than previous combat air programmes,” the BAE announcement said.

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