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UK to fly fighter prototype within five years, defense minister says

A Royal Air Force Typhoon during a sortie over Iraq. (U.S. Air Force photo, Senior Airman Tyler Woodward)

The U.K. plans to fly a prototype of its next-generation combat fighter within five years, government and industry officials announced Monday.

On the first day of the Farnborough Air Show outside London, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told Parliament that the demonstrator aircraft will prove out technology for the future combat plane, dubbed Tempest.

“The design and development of the demonstrator aircraft represents an important milestone, showcasing the success and talent of our engineers, programmers, and software developers,” Wallace said. “This program will go on to attract opportunities for many more great minds and talent from across the U.K.”

Italy and Japan are also helping to develop the new aircraft, which is slated to replace the Royal Air Force’s Eurofighter Typhoon.

“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,” the U.K. Defense Ministry said in a statement. “The flying demonstrator will be a piloted supersonic aircraft testing a range of new technologies including integration of stealth compatible features.”

The project, which officials say will create thousands of jobs in the United Kingdom, is part of a broader U.K. effort called the Future Combat Air System, or FCAS. The U.K. government is expected to spend $11.3 billion on the new jet’s development over the decade, according to Global Data aerospace and defense analyst Harry Boneham.

“The move is an encouraging sign for the UK’s domestic aerospace industry, with the demonstrator being the first in a generation designed and developed in the UK,” Boneham wrote of the demonstrator aircraft in a Monday note to investors. “It will be a vital steppingstone on the path to an eventual platform, providing data and insights that will shape the final FCAS aircraft and signals an ambition to push UK firms to the forefront of the global industry.”

The Royal Air Force revealed its effort to develop a new fighter jet 18, in 20the last time industry executives and military leaders from around the world met in Farnborough. The biennial show was canceled in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

That same year, the U.S. Air Force revealed it had tested a prototype of a new-generation fighter jet. The Pentagon has refused to give any other details about the Next Generation Air Dominance aircraft other than to say there is a competition underway. The Air Force has declined to name the companies that are part of that competition.

UK officials have disclosed that BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Leonardo, and MBDA are among the companies working on their Tempest jet.

“The demonstrator is an exciting once-in-a-generation opportunity providing experienced and young engineers alike a chance to contribute to an endeavor which really matters to our national defense and security,” BAE Systems CEO Charles Woodburn said.


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