UK to invite India to co-develop sixth-generation fighter aircraft Tempest

After having spurned Moscow’s proposal to jointly develop a fifth-generation fighter aircraft, the Indian Air Force (IAF) will be invited this month by the UK to co-develop a sixth-generation fighter called the Tempest. Business Standard learns that a UK delegation, including Ministry of Defence (MoD) officials and executives from British defence giant BAE Systems, who will arrive on February 18 for the Aero India 2019 exhibition in Bengaluru, will brief Indian MoD and IAF officials and gauge the potential for collaboration.

“We are looking for international partners to access the best assured capability (for developing the Tempest),” said Nik Khanna, who heads BAE Systems India.

The Tempest fighter will be targeted to enter service around 2035-2040, when the earliest Eurofighter Typhoons – in service in the UK, German, Italian, Spanish, Saudi Arabian, and Omani air forces – start to retire. Tempest was first unveiled as a concept fighter at the Farnborough Airshow in the UK last summer.

The Tempest’s configuration and capabilities are still being worked out. Under discussion are questions like whether it will be manned or remotely piloted, whether it will have a variable cycle engine and be capable of “directed energy” attacks, using weapons like laser beams; whether it will control drones for “swarm attacks”, and incorporate artificial intelligence and deep learning.

The only thing that seems clear is that the sixth-generation Tempest will be technologically far more advanced than current fifth-generation fighters like the F-22, F-35, J-20, and J-31.

The so-called Team Tempest, which will develop this futuristic fighter, includes, besides BAE Systems as the lead integrator, Rolls-Royce for the engines, Leonardo UK for sensors, and MBDA UK for missile systems.

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In addition to these, the UK believes other international partners, such as India, will be essential. Officials in Team Tempest say international partners will be chosen based on four parameters: a large military that will buy more aircraft; a large defence budget to pay development costs; industrial capability to play a useful development role; and powerful international influence to support the alliance.

Asked what role India could play in developing such an advanced fighter, Khanna said: “A big cost driver for a futuristic aerospace system is going to be the requirement for more and more software engineers. India has a huge capability in that area.”This search for foreign partners for Team Tempest comes at a time of decline for British defence industry. On Thursday, Financial Times cited a new report by research firm IHS Markit that finds “Britain is set to become a net importer of defence equipment for the first time since the Civil War in the mid-17th century.”

To reverse this trend, the UK has unveiled a Combat Air Strategy that undergirds the Tempest announcement. BAE Systems sources say this is a British statement of intent to retain its century-old leading role in the field of aerial combat, including nurturing aerospace industry as a key component of that.

In Farnborough, the UK government had announced a 2-billion pound investment into British aerospace industry, to create capabilities that would support the Tempest programme. It was hoped that this high profile announcement of an iconic programme would inspire young engineers to work in this sector. It was also hoped that this would encourage investments into the British aerospace sector.

“The UK combat air sector is a national asset. Not just the Royal Air Force, but also the industry that underpins that, creating 18,000 skilled jobs as well,” said a source in the UK defence ministry.

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Asked whether India would be able to shape the configuration of the Tempest fighter, Khanna stated: “We are committed to engaging with potential international partners at the very start of the programme so we can ensure that any system is designed with all partners’ interests in mind, as opposed to developing a system that is purely for the UK.”






Source:- Ajai Shukla/Business Standard

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