Tempest, new player or PR stunt?
On July 16, 2018, the first day of Farnborough Airshow, the United Kingdom unveiled a sixth generation fighter project named Tempest, part of a new Combat Air Strategy (CAS). The plane, which is set out to replace the Eurofighter Typhoon within the Royal Air Force, could rival the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) officialized by Germany and France during ILA Berlin Air Show on April 25-29, 2018.
According to the model presented at Farnborough, the Tempest will be a delta-wing twin-engine sixth generation stealth fighter. It should be operational by 2035, five years before Germany and France’s fighter.
While the specifics of the FCAS funding are still not known, UK Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson said the Combat Air Strategy would begin with a £2 billion investment from the government “in an industry that supports 18,000 direct jobs and 100,000 in the supply chain”.
For now, the “Team Tempest” is composed of BAE Systems and Rolls Royce Leonardo and MBDA, in collaboration with the Royal Air Force Rapid Capabilities office.
Other partners will be invited to join the project by 2019. Potential candidates could be Sweden, which is currently looking into finding a successor to the SAAB Gripen, or Japan, which has been struggling with its failed indigenous X-2 program.
Another big player showed interest following the announcement: Boeing. On July 20, 2018, Leanne Caret, chief executive of Boeing Defense, Space & Security, told Reuters that the American giant would be “thrilled” to join the program if there was an opportunity. While probably necessary, as the United Kingdom did not develop a fighter on its own since the end of the 1960s (with the Hawker Siddeley Harrier), Boeing involvement would be another blow from the United States to the European defense autonomy.
But some may see the Tempest as nothing more but a way for London to secure itself a more interesting seat in the SCAF cockpit. By showing its capacity to innovate, the United Kingdom would be in a better position to candidate as a partner, avoiding a similar position to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program. Despite being a Rank 1 industrial partner, the value of the British industry in the program merely exceeds 15%.
Since the announcement of Germany and France’s partnership, a British participation has been hinted several times. On July 20, 2018, Airbus CEO Tom Enders commented on the Tempest by saying it was time to “seriously look at consolidating and coalescing efforts eventually to one”. These words reported by the Sunday Times echo Enders’ failed attempt to merge EADS and BAE Systems back in 2012.
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