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Britain’s next fighter jet – science fiction, or flying fact?

Scientists have spent years researching concepts including laser weapons and brain sensors for a new RAF plane called ‘Tempest’.

Now ministers want those ideas turned into a working plane in just 5 years, but is it a gamble with the UK’s air capability? UDSS member Vice Air Marshal Sean Bell joins BFBS' Kate Gerbeau to discuss.


The BAE Systems Tempest is a proposed sixth-generation jet fighter aircraft that is under development in the United Kingdom for the British Royal Air Force (RAF). It is being developed under the Future Combat Air System (UK) programme by a consortium known as "Team Tempest", which includes the Ministry of DefenceBAE SystemsRolls-RoyceLeonardo S.p.A.MBDA UK and Saab. The aircraft is intended to enter service from 2035 gradually replacing the Eurofighter Typhoon in service with the RAF. £2 billion will be spent by the British government on the project by 2025.

Development of the Tempest began in 2015.

The UK and Japan began discussing jointly developing a new stealth fighter jet in 2017.

On 16 July 2018, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) published its Combat Air Strategy. The key elements of this are:

  • Continued development of the Typhoon.
  • Implement the Future Combat Air System Technology Initiative which was established by the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review.
  • Study of Typhoon replacement programmes.
  • "Build on or establish new [international] partnerships to deliver future requirements."
  • Focus on affordability.

The document describes combat air as "An aircraft, manned or unmanned, whose prime function is to conduct air-to-air and/or air-to-surface combat operations in a hostile and/or contested environment, whilst having the ability to concurrently conduct surveillance, reconnaissance, electronic warfare and command and control tasks." On the same day, the then Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson introduced the Tempest programme at the Farnborough Airshow as part of the Combat Air Strategy to maintain UK's combat aircraft development capabilities.

The Tempest will be a sixth-generation jet fighter incorporating several new technologies including deep learning AI, ability to fly unmanned, swarming drones, directed-energy weapons,virtual cockpit in helmet and hypersonic weapons. £2 billion was earmarked until 2025. It was developed by a group called Team Tempest, consisting of the BAE Systems, project leader and systems integrator; Rolls-Royce, working on power and propulsion; Leonardo S.p.A., working on sensors, electronics and avionics; MBDA, working on weapons; and the Royal Air Force (RAF) Rapid Capabilities Office. The maiden flight is anticipated to occur by 2025 ahead of entry into service by 2035. Tempest will replace the Eurofighter Typhoon in RAF service. The RAF's Second World War Hawker Tempest fighter also followed a Typhoon. Some technology developed for Tempest will be implemented in Typhoon before the deployment of Tempest.

In 2018 it was reported that the MoD was in talks with officials from Sweden about a common fighter jet aircraft and Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera confirmed that discussions were ongoing about a partnership.

On 8 February 2019, it was reported that the MoD and BAE Systems planned to approach the Indian MoD and Air Force regarding collaboration for the design and manufacture of the Tempest.[16] Further talks were planned at Aero India 2021.

In July 2019, Team Tempest revealed that they planned to use a Boeing 757 as a testbed for technology developed for Tempest.The aircraft, named Excalibur, will be the only stealth fighter testbed outside the United States.

On 19 July 2019, Sweden and the United Kingdom signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to explore ways of jointly developing sixth-generation air combat technologies. Swedish public service TV SVT reported that Sweden is now a part of the Tempest project, however Jane's Defence Weekly later clarified that Sweden was not formally part of the Tempest project, but is rather cooperating on the broader Combat Air Strategy. A decision on full commitment to Tempest by Sweden was expected by the third quarter of 2020.

Italy announced its involvement in Team Tempest on 10 September 2019. The Statement of Intent was signed between the UK participant bodies and Italian participant companies (Leonardo Italy, Elettronica, Avio Aero and MBDA Italy).

At the virtual Farnborough Airshow in July 2020, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace announced seven new companies were joining the Team Tempest consortium: GEUK, GKN, Collins Aerospace, Martin Baker, QinetiQ, Bombardier in Belfast (now Spirit Aerosystems) and Thales UK, along with UK universities and SMEs. The companies will develop more than 60 technology prototypes and demonstration activities. By July 2020, trilateral industry discussions between UK, Sweden and Italy had begun; also announced was an initial investment of £50m in the project by Saab and the opening of a Future Combat Air Systems centre in the UK. Saab did not however explicitly commit to Tempest.

Talks with Japan continued in 2020.

The involvement of Italy and Sweden was confirmed by the signing of a trilateral MoU with the UK, called Future Combat Air System Cooperation (FCASC), on 21 December 2020, "defining general principles for co-operation on an equal basis between the three countries".

On 29 July 2021, the project moved into the Concept and Assessment phase, with BAE Systems being awarded a £250 million contract to advance the design. In August 2021 Italy announced its intention to invest €2 billion by 2035 starting with a €20 million contribution in 2021 followed by the same amount in 2022 and 2023.

On 22 December 2021 it was announced that the UK and Japan would jointly develop an engine testbed, with the UK initially contributing £30m for design to be followed by £200m for production of the testbed.

On 18 July 2022, the UK announced that a demonstrator aircraft would be flown for the first time "within the next five years". According to the MOD press release, the demonstrator's development is already underway at the BAE Systems facility in Preston, England and it has already been flown in simulators.