Less than 15 months from the UK having launched the Combat Air Strategy in July 2018 and the UK MOD having re-affirmed the £2 billion commitment to the ‘Future Combat Air System Technology Initiative (FCAS TI) development programme aimed not only at maturing required new technologies but also in developing the skills and international partnerships that would be needed to develop FCAS TI ‘Team Tempest’ programme to evolve as the next generation of combat aircraft capability; and just three months since the UK and Swedish governments signed a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ (MoU) at RIAT allowing Sweden to examine the possibilities for a ‘joint development’ of the future combat aircraft capability more fully, it was extremely pleasing that on the first day of DSEI 2019 four major Italian defence companies – Leonardo Italia, Elettronica, Avio Aero and MBDA Italy – signed a ‘Statement of Intent’ with the four leading UK defence companies – BAE Systems, Leonardo UK, Rolls-Royce and MBDA UK – to partner on the Tempest programme.
While the Swedish/UK MoU does not yet commit the Swedish Government to fully joining the Future Combat Aircraft (FCAS TI) programme (this is actually a one year study phase by Sweden, supported by the nation’s leading defence company SAAB, intended to determine whether its future combat aircraft requirements and schedule aligns with those of its potential partners) the decision of the Swedish Government to now work very closely with the UK to examine the possibilities of Sweden possibly joining the FCAS TI programme is not only a very significant step forward by an important Scandinavian nation and ally, but also because until now Sweden has maintained a very solid policy of ‘going it alone’ on military fast jet aircraft capability development – SAAB’s successful Gripen fast jet capability being a perfect example.
The Swedish government’s decision to examine the possibilities of joining FCAS makes enormous sense and the hope is that over the next year to eighteen months Sweden will move to become a full partner in the programme. At the time of the announcement by the four Italian companies BAE Systems said that “the new agreement with Italy will see the parties work together to define an innovative concept and partnership model which will include knowledge sharing, product definition and technology development for the joint development of future combat air systems”. BAE Systems CEO Charles Woodburn also referred to the “proven record of successful collaboration with Italian industry (this being a reference to Italy having been a partner in Panavia Tornado and also in Eurofighter Typhoon) makes us certain that this partnership between our two nations is a strong fit for Tempest and demonstrates the growing momentum behind this important international endeavour.
Named ‘Team Tempest’ by the four UK industry partners – BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Leonardo UK and MBDA UK and who are working in conjunction with the Royal Air Force ‘Rapid Capabilities Office’ at RAF Air Command High Wycombe and the UK Ministry of Defence who are responsible for the £2 billion UK government investment in Tempest development, all share a joint vision of requirement – development of state-of-the-art technologies needed for the next generation of Combat Aircraft.
Tempest will be a sixth-generation Combat Aircraft, operating at the cutting edge of technological innovation and intended to maintain and secure the UK’s position as a global leader in Combat Air. Drawing on highly specialist expertise from here in the UK, the intention is also to inspire the next generation to develop the skills and experience in science, technology, engineering and maths that are needed to develop cutting edge Combat Air systems. Currently well over 1,000 highly skilled personnel are working within the ‘Team Tempest’ programme and the expectation is for this to rise to over 2,500 by 2021.
The FCAS TI programme has already moved far and fast. With Sweden having confirmed its decision to examine the possibilities of joining FCAS TI and with four major Italian defence companies having announced a significant ‘Statement of Intent’ to join the UK led programme no one should be in any doubt that FCAS TI and Team Tempest is no longer just a hope and intent but a programme that is now very real.
Backing this up would be to remind that over the past year the ‘Team Tempest’ partnership has driven a step change in relationships and behaviours between Government and industry, aligning incentives, sharing costs and benefits and creating common interest in pace and agility. ‘Team Tempest’ is apparently also on track to deliver 17 European-firsts and 7-world firsts, the first of which has already been achieved – the embedding of an electrical starter generator by Rolls-Royce within the main body of a powerful military aircraft engine, increasing the power density and as a result, reducing the complexity of future aircraft engines, a factor that itself results in more efficient engine designs and that can also be fully exploitable to Rolls-Royce’s multi-billion pound civil aero engine business. This technology will continue to be matured in the coming years, leading to a fully integrated novel power and propulsion system.
The ‘Team Tempest’ partnership together with the combined industry and government funding that underpins it is, as mentioned previously, already supporting over 1,000 jobs, many of these being high-end design work at BAE Systems in Lancashire, Rolls-Royce in Bristol and Leonardo in both Edinburgh and Luton. This number is set to rise to 1,800 by the end of this year.
in March some 180 different companies representing a wide range of capabilities and size, received briefs on the various technologies currently being matured by ‘Team Tempest’ and importantly, of the many opportunities that exist for further collaboration. ‘Team Tempest’ partners have subsequently engaged an additional 500 plus companies and so far, let in excess of 120 sub-contracts in support of ‘Team Tempest’ activities.
In respect of UK industrial air capability involvement FCAS TI and ‘Team Tempest’ will ensure that Combat Air Sector is likely to be a key driver of new technologies and skills. This will include areas such as automation, machine learning, advanced manufacturing and big data, all of which will have broad benefit to the UK economy. Crucial to the long-term sustainability of the combat air sector will be ensuring that the skills needed in the future are identified, that the workforce is trained and that ultimately, these skills are transferred to the next generation. To that end ‘Team Tempest’ has already established a dedicated STEM engagement team to inspire young people to be involved in this sector. This approach, along with the assurance provided by the long-term Combat Air Strategy, has already resulted in record numbers of young people joining the workforce. This year, Leonardo MW will recruit no fewer than 104 graduates and 62 apprentices, with the majority of these young people planned to be involved in ‘Team Tempest’ activities. Similarly, BAE Systems is planning to recruit approximately 700 apprentices and 300 graduates to grow the percentage (currently 10%) of their ‘Team Tempest’ workforce that are graduates and apprentices.
FCAS TI and Team Tempest is without doubt a brilliant and now very live UK led future combat jet programme. There will in my view be no turning back and I also expect that other foreign partners will join. Another factor that stands out within the FCAS TI ‘Team Tempest’ programme is that this has already become an excellent example of Government and Industry working together in collaboration in what is after all a co-funded industry/government programme and one that without doubt, Government remains truly committed.
Looking forward and perhaps in order to learn some lessons from past European combat jet collaborative partnerships, I would suggest that now rather than in two years from now, would be the time to put in place a structured board level management process, one that tongue in cheek might better be led through the long development phase by a very senior member of the Royal Air Force and later when the build stage is reached, by a senior member of industry. My reasoning is to ensure that all the way through this very important programme there is consistency and strong leadership throughout.
What we must ensure is that both now as a primarily UK led development programme and later as a truly international collaborative partnership that the FCAS TI ‘Team Tempest’ programme does not get booged down by lack of strong leadership, politics and too much process.
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785