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UK Future Combat Air Programme ‘Tempest’ – Crucial Benefits, Huge Economic Value PLUS More Key Programme Insights By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.





Preliminary findings from an independent review and analysis by PwC on initial stage economic importance, contribution and value to the UK economy from the multi-decade ‘Tempest’ future combat air programme predict that this hugely important development will support an average of 20,000 jobs every year during the period 2026 to 2050.

With 1,800 people currently employed across the UK industry and the MOD on Tempest development, a number that is expected to rise to 2,500 next year and many more in the following years, Tempest is a vital programme not only in respect of future UK defence and national security and that of allied nations involved but also for developing and maintaining crucial design, engineering, technical and manufacturing skills that the UK will require in the years ahead.

Tempest is undoubtedly one of the UK’s most ambitious current technological endeavours – a high value military air capability design programme and one that is already a crucial part of the UK government prosperity agenda. Designed to deliver a highly advanced, adaptable combat air system that will come into service from the mid-2030s Tempest can be expected to deliver significant additional long-term benefits to the UK over the full lifetime of the programme.

Along with meeting a major military requirement Tempest will be critical in ensuring that the UK is able to sustain its long and highly successful record in Combat Air Sector design and build capability; preserving sovereign capability and critical skills but also in order to deliver independent military ‘freedom of action’ and ensuring UK national security is maintained.

Tempest will also bring benefits through investment in people, early careers, technology and infrastructure, supporting the economy and long-term prosperity. It will preserve sovereign capability whilst at the same time investing in highly skilled jobs, with a specific focus on young people, developing technology and infrastructure, that will support the wider economy and long-term prosperity of the UK. 

As the UK’s next generation combat aircraft, one that forms part of a wider combat air system of systems, Tempest will exploit new technologies as they evolve in order to respond to the changing nature of the battlespace and address increasingly high-tech and complex threats and conflict.

The Tempest programme is being delivered by ‘Team Tempest’, a UK technology and defence partnership formed by BAE Systems, Leonardo UK, MBDA, Rolls-Royce and the MoD through the RAF Rapid Capabilities Office. The programme already involves hundreds of high-tech companies, SMEs and academia across the UK.

The wider economic, skills and technology benefit that the ‘Team Tempest’ programme will bring to the UK cannot be understated. As noted in a previous commentary, back in July seven additional companies signed agreements to progress opportunities to work on future combat air concepts and underpinning technologies across the whole Team Tempest programme – including Bombardier Belfast, Collins Aerospace in the UK, GE Aviation UK, GKN Aerospace, Martin-Baker, QinetiQ, and Thales UK.

Ahead of a full report that will be made available by the end of the year, the data released last Thursday represents preliminary independent PwC findings on the Tempest programme that cover the period from 2026 to 2050. These reveal that:

The Tempest programme will contribute at least £25.3bn (on a net present value basis in 2019 terms with estimates discounted by the social time preference rate of 3.5% as recommended in HM Treasury’s Green Book) in the first 30 years alone.

The £25.3 billion figure excludes the significant impact of R&D spillover (regarded as a positive consequence of research and development applied to sectors beyond which it was developed for, which has benefits to the wider economy) and the important role Tempest plays in securing the critical UK combat air industrial sector and its associated economic benefits.

That for every £100 of direct value added generated by the Tempest programme partners, £220 of GVA direct, indirect and induced (Figures presented in GVA [gross value added] which is a measure in economics of the value of goods and services produced in an area, industry or sector of an economy) is estimated to be created across the UK economy.

The programme is forecast to support an average of circa 20,000 jobs every year between 2026 and 2050. For every 100 workers employed directly by the Tempest programme partners, a further 270 are estimated to be employed across the UK economy (direct, indirect and induced).

The initial analysis is based on the period of programme development, production, entry into service and early support, but it specifically does not include the full potential of export opportunities, R&D investment or the value of the programme beyond 2050.

BAE Systems Director of Combat Air Acquisition Programmes Michael Christie said following publication of the initial PwC data that

“Tempest is an exciting and ambitious multi-decade programme that will help to preserve our national security whilst at the same time driving significant economic benefits for the UK. The initial analysis revealed today demonstrates that Tempest is critical to ensuring the UK can sustain its world-leading Combat Air Sector, preserving the sovereign capability that is essential to retaining military freedom of action for the UK.”

Amongst a number of additional key insights that were separately released by the Team Tempest alongside the preliminary PwC findings include the following:

Experts from the Team Tempest electronics lead, Leonardo UK, are developing new radar technology capable of providing over 10,000 times more data than existing systems. The new sensor, called the ‘Multi-Function Radio Frequency System’, will collect and process unprecedented amounts of data on the battlespace – equivalent to the internet traffic of a large city such as Edinburgh, every second. This huge volume of information, processed on-board, will give Tempest a battle winning edge in combat situations, with the ability to locate and target enemies well before they are targeted themselves.

The brand-new sensor will provide a wide range of abilities beyond traditional radar, with all-digital technology providing the operator with an exceptionally clear view of the battlespace and of potential targets. Leonardo has already built complete sub-systems using the new technology and successfully tested them at the company’s site in Edinburgh with a path to airborne demonstrations in the coming years.

Separately, engineers at BAE Systems have begun flight testing cutting-edge concepts for Tempest’s ‘wearable cockpit’ technologies, designed to provide pilots in the cockpit or operators on the ground with split-second advantage. The concept sees the physical controls seen in current aircraft cockpits replaced with Augmented and Virtual Reality displays projected directly inside the visor of a helmet, which can be instantly configured to suit any mission. Concepts including human-autonomy teaming are also being developed, where a ‘virtual co-pilot’ could take on some of the pilot’s responsibilities. The virtual co-pilot concept is still being developed, but could for example, take the form of an ‘avatar’ built into the cockpit to interact with the pilot.

BAE Systems has also been trialling ‘psycho-physiological’ technologies, including eye-tracking, to study the operator’s physical and cognitive processes to better understand increasing exertion, stress, workload and fatigue. BAE Systems test pilots are now trialling these psycho-physiological technologies in controlled test flight conditions in a Typhoon aircraft. The results of the trials will inform further development to better understand a pilot’s cognitive behaviour and processes relating to brain activity, psychological rhythms and eye movement to inform further development.

MBDA UK has also embedded one of its Human Factors engineers within this wearable cockpit team, ensuring early introduction of weapons concepts that exploit these future technologies. This close partnership approach between MBDA UK and BAE Systems will allow the companies to help to collaborate at an early stage of the programme, shaping how weapons systems information and operation is optimised for the pilot.

At the same time, Rolls-Royce engineers have been developing advanced combustion system technology as part of the company’s power and propulsion work. The combustion system is where fuel is introduced and burned to release energy into the gas stream. A next generation system will need to be hotter than any previous platform, increasing the efficiency of the engine and meaning it can go further, faster, or produce less carbon dioxide. Rolls-Royce has been exploring advanced composite materials and additive manufacturing as part of this work, producing lightweight, more power-dense components capable of operating at these higher temperatures.

Accompanying what I can only describe as being a fascinating and hugely informative ‘Pioneering Technology for the Next Generation Combat Air Power’ WEBEX stakeholder event held last Thursday, Iain Bancroft, Director of Major Air Programmes at Leonardo in the UK, said:

“The collaborative relationship between Team Tempest and our network of academic and SME partners enables us to bring together the ‘best of the best’ engineering talent from across the UK. Crucially, we are embracing new ways of working as an integrated team to dramatically improve efficiency and pace – sharing intelligence and refining our concepts digitally to deliver innovations that will shape the next generation combat air system. Our new radar technology is a concrete example of the gains this approach has already brought, costing 25% less to develop while providing over 10,000 times more data than existing systems.”

CHW (London 19th October 2020) –

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS 

Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,

M: +44 7710 779785

Skype: chwheeldon



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