Britain to develop first supersonic fighter jet in almost 40 years in huge defence boost

Extinction Rebellion protesters block Farnborough Airshow

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The defence giant will work on a sixth-generation warplane as part of its Tempest programme. Built to replace the Eurofighter Typhoon, the prototype’s development involves BAE, the Ministry of Defence and suppliers from across the UK.

Herman Claesen, Managing Director of Future Combat Air Systems at BAE, said the new prototype could push the company’s technology forward in similar-sized bounds to the development of the jet engine or the Concorde passenger jet.

He told reporters at the Farnborough International Airshow: “This is in the same category as when Sir Frank Whittle developed the jet engine – when we designed Concorde – this is a fundamental step forward from an engineering point of view in doing combat.”

Launched in 2018, Team Tempest itself is a collaboration between the Ministry of Defence, BAE Systems, Leonardo UK, Rolls-Royce and MBDA UK.

It has been hailed by BAE Systems as playing a crucial role in providing long-term defence and security for the country while delivering a significant economic boost to the UK.

Mr Claesen said BAE wants the new fighter in the air in the next five years.

He said around 1,000 people at BAE and its suppliers will work on the demonstrator’s design.

Mr Claesen added the company has registered over 50 patents besides working on the project with 100 suppliers, small businesses and universities.

The sixth-generation fighter should offer improved radar-beating technology compared to the fifth-generation F35 and fourth-generation Typhoon.

Rolls-Royce is expected to develop the jet engines. The company struck a deal with Japanese engineering firm IHI to work on a next-generation engine last year.

Charles Woodburn, BAE Systems Chief Executive, said in a statement: “We recognise our responsibility in providing trusted sovereign combat air capability.

“We’re partnering with the UK’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.

“The demonstrator is an exciting, once-in-a-generation opportunity providing experienced and young engineers alike a chance to contribute to an endeavour which really matters to our national defence and security.”

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “The design and development of the demonstrator aircraft represents an important milestone, showcasing the success and talent of our engineers, programmers and software developers.

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“This programme will go on to attract opportunities for many more great minds and talent from across the UK.”

There has been speculation Japan could join the Tempest programme though sources have told the Telegraph an announcement is unlikely this week.

Tokyo is expected to decide on its own new fighter project later in the year.

It has been reported Tempest could merge with Japan’s F-X programme, creating a tie up between Britain, Italy and Japan which could rival France and Germany’s own future jet project.

Mr Wallace said: “I am delighted that the UK, alongside Italy and Japan, are working on similar combat air journeys together.

“Our work with Japan and Italy on cutting-edge technology like this shows the benefit of our alliances across the world.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at the opening of Farnborough airshow the Government is backing aviation and technology.

He said: “I am a passionate believer in the potential of our burgeoning partnership, not just with Italy, but with Japan.”

The Government wants the new fighter to be in service by 2035.

As with the UK, both Japan and Italy operate F-35 fighter jets. All three countries have also undertaken joint exercises together.

Richard Berthon UK Director at Future Combat Air said Britain was talking to “serious countries with serious ambitions to invest”.

He said talks with Japan were “going better than to plan”.

Mr Berthon told reporters at Farnborough: “The extent of the alignment we found with Japan, both on the military side, on the engineering side and on the investment side is fantastic. We are exploring what the level of ambition and the scope of our cooperation will be.”

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