The UK wants to adopt a new partnership arrangement with international participants in its Tempest next-generation combat aircraft programme, in an effort to avoid the rigid workshare model employed during previous joint efforts.
“Nations need to collaborate on the strength of what they bring to a programme, with the desire for industrial and technology gains in there as a consideration, but not the primary driver,” says Sir Simon Bollom, chief executive of the UK’s Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) organisation.
Speaking at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London on 10 June, Bollom described the proposed new arrangement as potentially similar to the “best athlete” model employed by Lockheed Martin when selecting suppliers for the F-35. This would avoid repeating the UK’s experience as a member of the four-nation Eurofighter consortium, where he argues “preservation of the purity of the workshare arrangements sometimes seemed to be the main aim of the programme”.
“Tempest offers a great opportunity for the UK defence industry, with international partners, to make a bold statement about the defence sector, re-establish our national sovereignty [in the combat air sector] and launch new product lines that are attractive to export nations,” Bollom says.
Launched at the Farnborough air show last July, the Tempest activity involves BAE Systems, Leonardo’s UK arm, MBDA, Rolls-Royce, DE&S and the Royal Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office. The project envisions delivering a future combat air system for operational use by around 2035. Potential partners have previously been listed as including Japan, Sweden and Turkey.
“Tempest provides a strategic opportunity to deliver another iconic capability with our chosen collaborative partners, based on the thinking that we derived from success on past programmes,” Bollom says.
He cautions, however, that momentum must be maintained with the Tempest programme, and points to the UK’s “failure to exploit our technological advantages in unmanned air systems and autonomy in the middle of the last decade”.
“[BAE’s] Herti and Mantis [unmanned air vehicles] were two examples of products that were in development, but we didn’t seize the opportunity for a number of reasons. Now these [types of] products are freely available in the open market worldwide,” he notes.
By contrast, he describes BAE’s Taranis unmanned combat air vehicle demonstrator programme – an industrial precursor to the creation of the current Team Tempest – as “hugely successful”, and as having “provided a solid technology foundation to springboard towards a sixth-generation aircraft”.