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Tempest fighter project brings in Williams to ‘electrify’ the jet

Alan Tovey
·3-min read
Tempest
Tempest

Stealth fighter programme Tempest is turning to motorsport to help “electrify” its jets.

The scheme to develop a new stealth fighter for the UK and partner nations will call upon battery technology used in Formula-E racing from Williams Advanced Engineering to help make the aircraft faster and more powerful.

BAE Systems, one of the leading companies in Tempest, is working with the motorsport expert to see how its systems to cool and manage power from batteries in racing cars can be adapted for the new aircraft, which could be in service with the RAF in 2035.

David Holmes, BAE director of manufacturing, said: “Weight impacts all parts of aircraft performance so having lightweight batteries from motorsport means you can go faster, have a longer range and be more agile.”

Tempest is also looking at equipping the jets with “directed energy weapons” – potentially lasers – which will require immense amounts of power and cooling.

Tempest fighter jet
Tempest fighter jet

Traditional generators might not be able to generate enough power quickly enough, so batteries could make up any shortfall.

So far the UK, Sweden and Italy have signed up to Tempest. The programme is still working out exactly what will be needed from the aircraft, which could be in service beyond 2060, and how it can be produced.

Rolls-Royce, Leonardo and MBDA are manufacturing partners alongside BAE. The Ministry of Defence and industry have committed £2bn so far and have about 1,800 people working on the project.

They are due to deliver to deliver an “outline business case” for the fighter to the MOD at the end of this year. 

It will take another five years to narrow down exactly what is expected from the aircraft. 

This could include unmanned versions, with artificial intelligence flying a swarm of pilotless aircraft, under the guidance of a human.

New manufacturing technologies are also expected to be incorporated, including 3D printing to make large parts of Tempest.   

If the project gets the green light from governments, production could last a decade.

Formula E
Formula E

Andrew Kennedy, BAE director of strategic campaigns, said the timeframe was “ambitious” but suggested close collaboration between the government, industry and the military would help. 

He added: “Traditionally the military would set a requirement and industry would say how much it costs to do it, but now we are working together to reassess that.

“For example, say the military said they wanted an aircraft to go 500mph. But if we worked together and found that that if it did 490mph, it would be cheaper, but could also make up for the speed in other ways.”

Tempest is seen as critical to preserving the UK’s ability to develop combat aircraft, with no other new projects in the pipeline.

Britain’s £6bn-a-year combat aircraft industry provides 18,000 jobs. According to BAE, it is responsible for 85pc of defence exports and delivers £900m a year in taxes. 

Mr Kennedy played down concerns Tempest could be abandoned because of pressure on defence spending.

“Protecting the country is a fundamental duty of government so it makes sense to spend the money here where it will bring benefits."

Paul McNamara of Williams said the company was "privileged to be involved in this ground-breaking project".

Other countries are known to be interested in the project, including Japan. However, the BAE executives would not be drawn on whether it will be feasible without other nations joining in to create a big enough market for the aircraft to be viable or deliver economies of scale.