Tempest, a combat aircraft under development to replace the Eurofighter Typhoon, is beginning to build momentum. At a recent briefing at the Royal International Air Tattoo air show, ‘Team Tempest’ announced a new supersonic demonstrator aircraft, a prototype of Tempest. The jet will be unveiled within the next five years as part of the UK’s Future Combat Air System project.
For those not familiar with Team Tempest, which to be honest is likely mostly everyone outside of the industry, it is a team of industry heavyweights including BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Leonardo UK and MBDA.
The programme, in its initial stages, is looking to employ 2,500 people in England and Scotland, with 1,300 more hired by 2023. These jobs are centred around what the industry is calling “combat air sector industrial hubs” located in Scotland, the northwest and southwest of England. On top of the extra jobs, the Tempest project is expected to boost investment and skills in technology areas such as radar and lasers, something we have seen recently with the building of a European hub for “high-energy laser weaponry” in Livingston by Raytheon UK.
It is estimated that, should the right decisions and deals be made, the project could contribute at least £25bn to the UK economy and support an average of 20,000 jobs annually between 2026 and 2050. The combat aviation sector in the UK as a whole is pinning its hopes on Tempest.
Scotland’s economy to receive at least £800mn in added value
With the air show announcement, it is clear to the aviation industry that movement on Tempest is picking up pace, and while the work is mostly being done in England, Scotland is set to see a share of the work.
Analysts at the analysis firm PricewaterhouseCoopers previously predicted that the combat aircraft would bring at least £800mn in what they call “added value” to the Scottish economy, “boosting investment in technology including radar and lasers”. The report, published back in May last year, explains that investment from Tempest will sustain highly-skilled research, development and manufacturing jobs in Scotland while increasing the average “Gross Value Added” by each worker involved in the project compared to the norm for the industry.
Scottish universities research photonics, autonomous systems and neuromorphic processing
At the heart of the effort in Scotland is Leonardo. The firm employs 2,000 people at its site in Crewe Toll, Edinburgh, which is designed around researching advanced electronics for combat aircraft.
Leonardo UK chief Norman Bone recently spoke to industry, extolling the benefit the project to build a new, modern combat jet could have in Scotland. Bone said:
“Tempest is a once-in-a-generation science and technology project that is critical to the UK’s future security, hugely inspirational for young people considering studying maths and science subjects, and a fantastic place to be for young Scots starting out in a career in engineering.” Bone added, referring to the aforementioned report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, “The project will also be a boon to the Scottish economy, meaning good, well-paying jobs for Scottish people at Tempest partners like Leonardo as well as throughout our supply chain.”
In the new year, the Royal Air Force published information on a briefing relating to an effort by Team Tempest to engage with Scottish academia, saying that members of the industrial consortium are looking to expand their existing relationships with universities such as Edinburgh, Strathclyde and Heriot-Watt. The team members are already working with academia in relevant research areas, such as applied photonics, autonomous systems and neuromorphic processing, which “emulates the neural structure of the human brain”.
Meanwhile, according to the RAF update on engagement with industry in Scotland, BAE Systems has worked with the University of Strathclyde on hyperspectral imaging, which is a key part of critical situational awareness for aircraft sensors, adding that the firm also supports and provides funding to studies relating to other sensor capabilities.
Team Tempest partners with the Scottish government and industry to drive future aerospace investment
Paul Everitt, Chief Executive of ADS, the trade organisation representing the aerospace, defence, security and space industries in the United Kingdom, recently went on record to say that the project is an important opportunity for Scotland and something that will drive future investment. Everitt, speaking after the RAF briefing to Scottish industry, said:
“The Tempest programme is an important opportunity for industrial collaboration, bringing together skills and expertise from every part of the UK. Today’s briefing, bringing together Team Tempest and the Scottish Government with Scottish industry, is a valuable initiative that will help businesses understand how they can contribute to this exciting programme. Tempest will create high-value export opportunities with our international allies and partners. It will drive future investment in the UK’s world-class defence aerospace sector and develop many highly skilled jobs that are at the heart of the advanced engineering sector.”
Tempest needs proper and timely investment to get airborne
Everything looks good on paper, doesn’t it? Well, it wouldn’t be a major defence procurement effort without some element of risk and concern. While we are not quite at the infamous ‘Ajax’ armoured vehicle level of concern, there is still some element of risk. This time last year, the Tempest project was given an ‘amber/red’ rating by the Infrastructure Project Authority, with a warning more funding is required or the project could seriously overrun.
According to the 2021 Annual Report on the Government Major Projects Portfolio from the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, the project had initially suffered a lack of funding at inception. The report states:
“The level of investment was significantly less than required; however, it preserves the feasibility of the programme within current parameters, but adds significant overall programme risk, particularly to the assumed date for Initial Operating Capability.”
What does that mean? The recent announcement regarding a boost in funding and industrial effort could not have come soon enough for a project that appeared to be languishing at the terminal. While it seems that the project is now on the right runway, it is clear that without proper and timely investment in the new jet and in the industry and academics building it, Tempest might end up leaving the ground having already missed its departure slot.