FARNBOROUGH, England — Britain’s Ministry of Defence plans to fly a supersonic combat air demonstrator within five years to prove the design and capabilities of its next-generation fighter aircraft.
U.K. Secretary of Defence Ben Wallace announced the demonstrator platform at the July 18 at the Farnborough Airshow being held this week in England. The aircraft is part of Britain’s Future Combat Air System program and the suite of future fighter technology being developed by the four companies that comprise Team Tempest: BAE Systems, Leonardo UK, Rolls-Royce and MBDA UK.
The Ministry said it has begun development of the demonstration aircraft in partnership with Team Tempest at BAE’s facility in Preston, England. The manned, supersonic aircraft will test stealth features as well as other new technologies.
“The demonstrator is vital for ensuring our technology, skills and industrial capability are ready for the future,” the Ministry said in a statement . “Designing and building the flying demonstrator will prove integration and test skills. It will also provide invaluable data and lessons to UK industry to support the introduction of a new FCAS aircraft from 2035.”
British officials gave no details on the cost of the program, which may be more than an all-British affair. The Ministry said in a statement to Defense News there is interest in Italian industry joining the demonstrator.
“The demonstrator aircraft is already in development between the government and Team Tempest industry partners and the U.K. is actively progressing collaboration opportunities on the project with Italian industry partners,” it said.
News of the demonstrator comes as Britain is deepening its relationship with Japan on combat aircraft development. Wallace highlighted that collaboration as well as the country’s relationship with Italy and Sweden, saying the cooperation “shows the benefit of our alliances across the world.”
Britain, Japan and Italy are conducting a joint concept analysis to identify shared requirements and consider how they might partner on future fighters. Decisions on the scope of that partnership are expected this year.
It’s been nearly 40 years since the British last invested in a combat jet technology demonstrator. The effort, Experimental Aircraft Program, was led by what is now BAE Systems and informed the development the Typhoon combat jet.
Typhoon was created as a partnership between Germany, Italy and Spain and remains a centerpiece of Europe’s combat jet development effort. The program has created thousands of jobs and evolving capabilities that are now likely to find their way into the sixth-generation Tempest.
BAE Chief Executive Office Charles Woodburn called the demonstrator a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity.
“We recognize our responsibility in providing a trusted sovereign combat air capability,” he said in a statement. “We’re partnering with the U.K.’s highly motivated and skilled supply chain to accelerate the innovation of the nation’s future air power; integrating new technologies so the Royal Air Force and its allies can stay ahead of our adversaries.”
Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET's space and emerging technology reporter. She previously covered the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force for Inside Defense.
Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.