UK to take leading role in next-generation air power

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has today (16 July) unveiled a concept model of a brand-new £2bn fighter jet as he launched a comprehensive strategy with a bold statement of intent for future British air power.

Gavin Williamson has unveiled a concept model of a brand-new next-generation fighter - image courtesy of BAE Systems.
Gavin Williamson has unveiled a concept model of a brand-new next-generation fighter – image courtesy of BAE Systems.

Announcing the publication of the new Combat Air Strategy at the Farnborough International Airshow, the Defence Secretary said he had taken action to strengthen the UK’s role as a global leader in the sector and to protect key skills across the UK industrial base.

He outlined the Strategy in front of the combat aircraft concept model which has been developed by UK industry in collaboration with the Ministry of Defence – being publicly unveiled for the first time, it acts as a powerful demonstration of the UK’s world-leading technical capability and industrial expertise.

Warren East, chief executive officer of Rolls-Royce, said: “As the UK’s long-term power and propulsion partner, we warmly welcome the government’s announcement of a Combat Air Strategy.

“The UK’s capability in combat air power and propulsion is at a critical point and this long-term commitment from Government will allow us to protect the expertise and key skills that are vital to retaining sovereign capability.

“It ensures that we are able to develop and deliver the advanced technologies that will be required in future combat air systems to help ensure our national security.”

For the last 100 years, the UK combat air industrial sector has ensured the UK has been at the forefront of technological and engineering developments, delivering world-leading capability to the RAF and our allies. This Strategy will ensure the UK continues to maintain this leading position.

How to maximise the value the UK derives from the sector 

The Strategy outlines the way in which the UK will acquire future Combat Air capabilities to maximise the overall value the UK derives from the sector. The framework will balance military capability, international influence, and economic and prosperity benefit along with the overall cost.

It reinforces the commitment in the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review to deliver the Future Combat Air System Technology Initiative (FCAS TI). The government, in partnership with industry, is taking steps to grow existing world-leading design engineering capacity and skills, ensuring that the UK continues to be at the cutting edge of combat air technology.

The concept aircraft has been put together by British firms including BAE Systems, Leonardo, MBDA and Rolls-Royce, which have joined together with the RAF Rapid Capabilities Office to form ‘Team Tempest’ to pursue the opportunity.

Team Tempest brings together the UK’s world-leading industry and sovereign capabilities across future combat air’s four key technology areas – image courtesy of BAE Systems.

Team Tempest brings together the UK’s world-leading industry and sovereign capabilities across future combat air’s four key technology areas: advanced combat air systems and integration (BAE Systems); advanced power and propulsion systems (Rolls-Royce); advanced sensors, electronics and avionics (Leonardo) and advanced weapon systems (MBDA).

The MOD will now set up a dedicated team to deliver the combat air acquisition programme. They will deliver a business case by the end of the year and have initial conclusions on international partners by next summer – with engagement with potential partners beginning immediately.

Early decisions around how to acquire the capability will be confirmed by the end of 2020 before final investment decisions are made by 2025. The aim is then for a next-generation platform to have the operational capability by 2035.

Investment in combat air technology, combined with the strengths of UK industry, has resulted in the UK being the only Tier 1 partner with the US on the F-35 Lightning II programme, with British industry delivering 15% by value of every F-35 built.