UK's Sixth-Generation Combat Air System Enters Concept Phase

Work will begin after the UK awards the 250-million pound contract to BAE Systems.
Ameya Paleja
Tempest, the U.K.'s Future Combat Air SystemBAE Systems

Just over a month after Europe gave the greenlight for the next phase of its new fighter jet and support system, the U.K. Ministry of Defense (MoD) has moved its own program into its next phase. 

Tempest is the cornerstone of Britain's Future Combat Air System (FCAS). It's a sixth-generation fighter jet that is intended to replace many of the country's existing fighters in the 2040s. That's still some time away, but these complex systems are often decades in the making. And today, MoD just awarded a contract worth about $347 million (£250m) to a consortium including the UK MOD, BAE Systems, Leonardo UK, MBDA UK, and Rolls-Royce to progress the design and development of the FCAS. 

Under the new contract, the consortium will create the tools and techniques required to develop and assess the final design and capability specifications for Tempest. 

However, the UK's FCAS is not intended to include advanced fighter jets alone. Given the rapid strides drones have taken in warfare in recent years, the FCAS is being developed as a System of Systems (SoS) that includes the use of drones as well as a variety of artificial intelligence and autonomous systems. 

When ready, the UK's FCAS system will work collaboratively with the systems developed by its allies to deliver world-leading military capability, the press release from BAE Systems said. 

The UK's FCAS program has evolved from the European Technology Acquisition Program (ETAP) that began in 2000 and included the UK, Italy, Sweden, Spain, Germany, and France. The current European program includes Germany, France, and Spain. Ultimately, the EU consortium is also looking to replace their famed fighter jets between 2035 and 2040, and their project is being led by Airbus, Dassault, and Indra.

Apart from delivering high-tech capabilities to UK defense, the program is also expected to contribute £26.2 billion to the country's economy while supporting 21,000 jobs and improving investments, innovation, productivity, and skills across the region, a PwC report suggested. 

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"We are on track to deliver an ambitious program for the U.K., which will provide a highly advanced and sophisticated air defense capability, capable of countering future threats and safeguarding our national security and defense," said Chris BoardmanGroup Managing Director of BAE Systems Air Sector. "The coming years represent one of the most exciting periods in the history of our industry and, as a team, we have a chance to be part of something genuinely historic, transforming the way we develop and deliver."

With a European concept plane scheduled for 2025, there are some exciting times ahead, especially considering that Russian has just unveiled its fifth-generation fighter.

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