The Tempest sixth-generation stealth fighter jet program has received a big boost with Italy, the United Kingdom, and Sweden signing a trilateral agreement to this effect.
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Italian Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini, the British Secretary of State for Defense Ben Wallace, and the Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultkvist signed the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) Cooperation agreement on December 21, 2020.
The memorandum of understanding (MoU) came a year after Italy joined the UK-led project for developing the future Tempest fighter jet. While the MoU was signed in December, the Italian government announced this on January 03.
The MoU will cover the cooperation for research, development, and “joint-concepting” of the Tempest fighter which will eventually replace the Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets in Italy and the UK, and the Saab Gripen fighter jets in Sweden.
The agreement is aimed at enabling equal participation of the signatory nations in the activities related to the future Tempest fighter. This is expected to benefit each nation’s defense industry, their small and medium enterprises as well as their research institutes and universities.
The Italian Ministry of Defence described the Future Combat Air System Cooperation (FCASC) MoU as “crucial for the balance of military and industrial capabilities at the European and global level”.
“(The agreement defines) the general principles for co-operation on an equal basis between the three countries comprising all activities including research, development, and joint-concepting necessary for governments to acquire an advanced air system to replace Eurofighter,” said the Ministry of Defence.
“The agreement will be followed by the project arrangements and the full development phase, currently scheduled to begin in 2025,” it added.
The Tempest Program, aimed at developing optionally-manned sixth-generation stealth fighters, was launched in 2018. The advanced fighters are expected to enter service by 2040.
While the UK has committed initial funding of £2 billion ($2.6 billion) to the Tempest Project, it has now been joined by Italy and Sweden as partners via aerospace giants Leonardo and Saab. There are rumors about the Netherlands joining the project as well.
The British government said last year that seven more companies joined the program with the number of people working on the Tempest project likely to increase from 1,800 to 2,500 by 2021.
The program will be led by BAE Systems, with Rolls Royce contributing engines, European missile developer MBDA integrating weapons, and Italian firm Leonardo developing sensors and avionics.
Last year, British Education Secretary and then Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson had unveiled the model of the Tempest at the Farnborough Air Show in Northeast Hampshire.
Currently, the Tempest project is among the priorities of all three governments, which are working towards obtaining widespread industry participation in it.
This is aimed at garnering the best expertise to work on the many technology demonstrations currently in progress. The full development phase (FDP) will begin in 2025.
Italian Defence Minister Guerini had underlined the importance of the program during the presentation of the Documento Programmatico Pluriennale (Multiyear Planning Document, DPP) 2020–2022 to the Italian parliament back in November.
“The Tempest program is among the defense priority programs,” said the Ministry of Defence.
The Italian government is also following Britain in starting a “Typhoon to Tempest transition”, under which technologies developed for the Tempest sixth-generation fighter will be utilized to upgrade the Eurofighter Typhoons.
“A first important budget line for Italian participation in Tempest was clearly identified within the Eurofighter program to allow for the concrete start of activities through the so-called ‘Typhoon to Tempest’ [technological] transition.” said the Italian Ministry of Defence.
Reports suggest the Tempest will be a large single-seated, twin-engine delta-wing stealth fighter jet with a cranked trailing edge and two vertical stabilizers slanted inwards, similar to a Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor jet.
With the stealth technology a prerequisite for any sixth-generation fighter jet, the Tempest fighter is expected to boast features including being optionally-manned, capable of carrying hypersonic or directed energy weapons, and the ability to deploy and control drone swarms.