There has been a race among western countries including the US, UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Sweden, etc to develop a sixth-generation fighter jet as they seek global aerial dominance and technological advancements.
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France has been working with Germany and Spain to jointly develop Europe’s next-generation air defense system, also called Future Future Combat Air System (FCAS). At the same time, the UK has partnered with Sweden and Italy, as part of its Tempest program to develop a 6th-gen aircraft.
While the US is working on its own sixth-gen program called NGAD, aviation enthusiasts predict stiff competition between European nations. With Japan exploring to join the UK-led Tempest program, experts say the competition could really heat up.
Future Combat Air System
The FCAS is aimed at replacing the existing fleet of Eurofighter Typhoons, France’s Rafale jets and Spanish EF-18 Hornets by the year 2040. The New Generation Fighter (NGF) program is being led by France’s Dassault Aviation. Germany is represented by Airbus whereas Indra represents Spain’s participation.
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Even though the program had a promising start, it encountered a number of controversies regarding issues that were critical for its progress such as intellectual property rights and workshare agreements between France, Germany, and Spain.
In April, the French Senate’s foreign affairs and defense committee released a statement saying that Airbus and Dassault had reached an agreement for removing “the main obstacle” in launching the fighter program’s demonstrator portion.
In July, the German Parliament had approved investments to the tune of $5.3 billion for developing Phase 1B as well as Phase 2 of the FCAS. This includes “research and technology-based activities” which will be carried out between 2021 and 2027.
The demonstrator portion of the FCAS is scheduled for running through 2026 or 2027, as reported by EurAsian Times.
UK’s Tempest Program
This program is led by defense manufacturer BAE Systems along with Leonardo UK, Rolls Royce, and MBDA.
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“The new phase in the development of the Tempest fighter includes defining and beginning to design the future combat air system, maturing technologies across the system, investing in the skilled workforce, securing digital and physical infrastructure and tools that underpin cutting-edge digital engineering, data, and software-based systems”, a statement by UK’s Ministry of Defence said.
As it was announced in the Memorandum of Understanding, Team Tempest aims at enabling major program choices by 2024. According to reports, the UK Government agreed to invest more than £2 billion ($2.7 billion) in the project over a period of the next four years, as announced by the Defence Command Paper.
Apart from this, the program received an additional investment of £800 million over the same duration. Even though most of the details have not been revealed as yet, the new fighter jet is expected to harness next-generation technologies.
“Developing the system allows us to drive a revolution in digital development and harness the power of open systems architecture. We are looking forward to working together with the UK industry and international partners to create and deliver a system which will keep us safe for decades to come,” said Richard Berthon, UK’s Director of Future Combat Air.
The UK has also been working towards involving more countries to invest in this program. BAE’s director of FCAS, Michael Christie, said that he expects the contracts with Sweden and Italy as well as the concept and assessment phase to be signed by the end of this year.
Japan To Join Tempest Program?
It was announced on September 15 at the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) arms trade show in London that Japan could emerge as the next partner in the UK-Swedish-Italian FCAS program, known as the Tempest.
#ICYMI A recent article by @thetimes looks at how technologies including the @TeamTempestUK Future Combat Air System and #PHASA-35 pseudo-satellite could operate in a multi-domain battle space from sub-sea to space.
— BAE Systems Air (@BAESystemsAir) July 2, 2021
Michael Christie told Reuters on September 29 that “talks with Japan ranged from the country joining the program as a partner to collaborate on the technology”. “There’s a lot of commonality between the UK and Japan in terms of what they’re trying to achieve in this sphere … that’s an ongoing area and one that we are actively pursuing”, he added.
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The UK’s program director, Air Commodore Johnny Moreton, was quoted as saying, “We’ve been in negotiation, conversations and some pilot projects. Nothing necessarily too complex at the moment. We’re doing a joint engine viability study with Japan at the moment, and that’s quite exciting.
“They have an F-X program that has a very similar time frame to us, 2035. The threat is very similar to the one that we are anticipating, and in terms of an industrial nation, clearly, they sit at the top table, as do we”, he added.
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Moreton also said that the UK and Japan might extend their partnership beyond engine technologies and might also include electronic warfare and radar development.
He further accentuated the “freedom of modification” in which the program and the new fighter jet will be designed in a way that each country participating in the program can customize the aircraft to meet its own requirements.