It’s time to be tempted by the Tempest. It may sound like a low-budget fantasy movie, but it is actually the new European next-generation Tempest fighter that is getting close to its maiden flight in 2027. By some estimates, the program is on track to hit its milestones in the coming years. But the airplane has more than one cook in the kitchen (the United Kingdom, Italy, and Sweden) and competition from another consortium (Germany, France, and Spain) that is also producing a sixth-generation warplane under the name Future Air Combat System (FACS).
Focus on the Tempest
In the future, the two programs – Tempest and FACS – may merge as development toward goals progresses. The British group working on the Tempest is progressing faster than the German-Franco-Spanish partnership that is aiming to create the Future Combat Air System next-generation fighter. For the time being, the Tempest is moving forward to take flight on its own.
Could It Be Ready by 2035?
The Tempest fighter does indeed have a long way to go before Initial Operational Capability, which is not expected until 2035. The consortium has likely planned for the possibility of schedule slips and cost overruns within the estimated IOC timeline.
Team Tempest Is Born
After meeting at the Farnborough Air Show in 2018, defense ministries from United Kingdom, Italy, Sweden agreed to forge ahead with Tempest after a mockup of the next-generation fighter impressed the expo crowd. The consortium agreed on a memo of understanding in 2020 that it would take a total of $6 billion split among its members for research and development. In 2021, the British defense ministry inked a deal with what became known as “Team Tempest” for a $250 million contract with BAE Systems, Rolls Royce, Leonardo UK, and MBDA UK.
Tempest Mockup Is a Hit
The group was able to assemble a Tempest mockup displayed at the 2021 DSEI Expo in London. Engineers, designers, and British military officials were enthusiastic about a timeline that foresaw IOC in around 15 years rather than the typical 40 years of development that some airplanes require before serial production.
Wearable Cockpit Could Change the Pilot’s In-air Experience
The Tempest will be a smorgasbord of digital technologies integrated within the airplane’s communication suite, data gathering systems, and link to 5G networks. The pilot is expected to wear an augmented reality interface to take advantage of artificial intelligence in the cockpit. This concept is the so-called “wearable cockpit,” with voice, eye tracking, and gestures that can control the airplane and communicate with other pilots and Air Force personnel on the ground.
How Will It Use an Avatar?
The airplane is designed to be remote controlled with a virtual “avatar” co-pilot for flight assistance. The Tempest will also have at least one “Loyal Wingman” autonomous drone for collecting intelligence and reconnaissance data or to fly out ahead and conduct electronic warfare and even launch munitions.
Big Plans for an Italian-made Radar
Italy’s Leonardo is working on a newfangled radar called the Multi-Function Radio Frequency System, which will vacuum up an immense amount of flight data and process it for the pilot, allowing for unprecedented situational awareness.
Team Tempest to Eclipse the Russians
The project is ambitious. The challenge will be to integrate all of these systems from multiple defense contractors and Air Forces and deliver a flying demonstrator by 2027. This could result in Europe’s version of the F-35 someday and would go a long way to outclass Russia’s MiG-41 next-generation fighter that will likely be starved of funds and resources as the war in Ukraine sucks all the life out of future-generation airplanes. The downside is cost. It is not clear how much the Tempest will cost after the team plows through the initial research and development contract in the United Kingdom. Each partner of the consortium should ante up at least $2 billion to keep the program on track. That may be difficult with pinched defense budgets, but the stakes are high.
Europe is ready for a fighter that can dominate the skies and challenge Russia for aerial supremacy, the Tempest could change the military balance and give Vladimir Putin more to worry about.
Expert Biography: Serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.
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