BAE Systems have unveiled what it calls a “first of its kind factory” to advance manufacturing on the UK’s next generation combat air system, Tempest.

The new facility at BAE Systems’ site in Warton, Lancashire, is the result of a multi-million pound investment and collaboration with more than 40 blue chip and SME companies along with academic institutions.

Image via BAE Systems.

According to the firm in a news release:

“Harnessing the best of UK innovation, the Company has developed a digitally connected, intelligent factory for future military aircraft production. Bringing together advanced manufacturing technologies, the factory will transform engineering processes. Automated robots, as well as virtual and augmented reality will increase speed, precision and efficiencies, as well as reduce the costs associated with the manufacture of complex military aircraft structures.

The factory also demonstrates a new approach to the way humans and machines can operate together. Cobotics and other flexible robot technologies remove the need for heavy, fixed, long-lead tooling and can quickly switch from the manufacture of one item or platform to another. Intelligent machines and off-the-shelf robotic technology from the automotive industry have been modified to operate at the precise tolerances required for military aircraft, which in some cases are less than a third the width of a human hair. Such technology drives greater productivity by allowing operators to focus on more highly-skilled and strategic tasks and production managers to oversee operations from a fully digitised, virtual office.

The new facility underpins efforts of the UK-led Tempest programme to meet the UK’s ambition to remain at the forefront of the Combat Air sector by delivering more cost-effectively and in half the time of previous programmes.”

Intelligent Workstation is already in use in Typhoon production at Samlesbury, Lancashire.

Dave Holmes, Manufacturing Director for BAE Systems Air, said:

“We’ve collaborated with the best of UK industry and academia to develop a cutting-edge facility that combines current and emerging technologies, ensuring the UK remains at the forefront of combat air technology development. Driving our manufacturing capabilities forward as we prepare for the fourth Industrial Revolution, will sustain and develop critical skillsets and ensure we can continue to deliver military capability to address future threats, whilst improving productivity and delivering value for money for our customers.”

BAE add that technologies inside the factory are already delivering benefits. The intelligent workstation, developed in collaboration with The University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and Fairfield Control Systems, is in use on the Typhoon production line.

“It uses a system which recognises operators and automatically delivers tailored instructions using ‘pick by light’ technologies. In addition, additive manufacturing technologies are being used in the production of Typhoon aircraft parts and assemblies.”

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maurice10
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maurice10

This process should drive down cost considerably. The more efficient the build period the more likely this plane can achieve a realistic unit price? Obviously, BAE intends to proceed (for now) with Tempest, which is very encouraging, and if the true unit cost can be attained, the greater the chances of the RAF receiving this plane in the next decade or so?

JohnG
Guest

Agreed. Exciting stuff. I sincerely hope enough thought has been put in to prevent any state sponsored industrial espionage units from infiltrating this facility.

maurice10
Guest
maurice10

I doubt we will ever know about infiltration, however, an interesting thought, how many ‘F’s’ have the West managed to infiltrate into Russian military equipment? I doubt it’s zero! Robotics are just getting started and in combination with 3D printing could change the way governments build military hardware. Imagine ordering a Tempest by lifting the phone and someone pressing a button. One week later a completely serviceable fighter is delivered. Such a modus operandi could reduce aircraft fleets to say, two squadrons of Tempest for peacetime operations, then turn to ‘Urgent Requirement’ builds when more airframes are needed. Engines would… Read more »

geoff
Guest
geoff

The Swedes would be great partners in this. Also the Italians with whom we have co-operated on a number of military projects over the years. The only problem with the latter is that a hostile split from the EU might affect such partnerships going forward

BB85
Guest
BB85

Leaving the EU will have nothing to do with it. Once the final settlement is agreed this year, I’ll be glad not having to listen to the word Brexit again.

geoff
Guest
geoff

Morning BB85. I think the EU issue might very well affect it and much else. If talks fail then I am guessing the EU will not bend over backward to facilitate projects between them and the UK. At present British Industry benefits from a relatively free flow of goods, services and personnel from Europe. this will change if a suitable agreement cannot be reached,

fearlesstunafish
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fearlesstunafish

except the eu has nothing to do with tempest, italy joined bilaterally…. same way we can have a defense agreement with france sperate to the eu. besides, currently the eu have their own version of tempest with france and germany….

ChariotRider
Guest
ChariotRider

The agreement to develop and invest has nothing to do with the EU, but the production will as parts and services will need to cross boarders and be subject to whatever trade regulations exist between the UK and EU.

Cheers CR

spyintheskyuk
Guest
spyintheskyuk

Equally Italy has a very hostile relationship with the Germans presently and though I am not so sure probably France too, they know their place is in Europe but are from happy with it. While the present Govt (or at least the fundamental core of it) stays in power and I know thats not always easy to predict in Italy, there should be no problem and as Leonardo have no wish to continue playing second fiddle to the Franco German conglomerates there is a pretty good chance even thereafter that the collaboration will stick.

TrevorH
Guest
TrevorH

Indeed, is France going to tell us we don’t want to help them in Malawi, Chad (?).

Gavin Gordon
Guest
Gavin Gordon

It all depends on what attitude triumphs – politics or pragmatics. There are concept and technical issues that can bedevil international aerospace programmes, as we know, which can in turn inform the debate over a unilateral versus multilateral modus. But overall these have not prevented mutually successful outcomes, either purely technical or more widely economic. Furthermore, these have progressed whether states are within or without the EU – e.g. from Concorde, through Typhoon to F35. The Tempest programme is eminently achievable by the UK, and probably even more so alongside similarly minded countries like Sweden, but that of itself does… Read more »

BB85
Guest
BB85

A deal will be agreed, Northern Ireland was the only thing that prevented the Canada deal being agreed 2 years ago. Now it is out of the way there is no reasonable reason to prevent a Canada style deal.

I can’t see fishing rights getting in the way of it, a deal will be found that gives the UK sovereignty but EU pretty much the same level of access they have today.

geoff
Guest
geoff

Interesting post Gavin. Some thoughts. my main point is, that notwithstanding your comments regarding previous tie-ups, we are in unchartered territory here with regards to how the UK leaves the EU. In the event of a failure to reach a trade agreement, an outcome looking more likely, then the EU will certainly seek to punish us-to make a point and to discourage les autres who might want to leave. when you hear Nissan among others expressing doubts about their ability to manufacture in the UK in the event of no agreement then you have to consider this possibility seriously. On… Read more »

geoff
Guest
geoff

I know one should check before posting but an Edit facility would be nice-scuse spellos.

Gavin Gordon
Guest
Gavin Gordon

Yes, Concoed was the failed attempt to go it alone by the Welsh, was’nt it?
Regards

geoff
Guest
geoff

Haha Gavin you are a shameless opportunist but touché 🙂

geoff
Guest
geoff

PS-yes it was’tn

John Clark
Guest
John Clark

“The Tempest programme is eminently achievable by the UK, and probably even more so alongside similarly minded countries like Sweden” I absolutely agree, it’s totally achievable by the UK, but the elephant in the room is funding. Let’s not kid ourselves chaps, Tempest simply cannot be afforded by the the the current partnership. This highly advanced machine will require massive funding, with potential orders of 400 plus machines needed (and serous foreign investment) to make it viable program. What do we consider a late 2020’s RAF order might be? We don’t know how the international situation will develop, but let’s… Read more »

Gavin Gordon
Guest
Gavin Gordon

I think numbers is the issue that is going to affect any competing european attempts to trump each other, John; a gentle point that we are making here and indeed everyone else can clearly see as well. Last I heard, Germany was definitely making noises over combining efforts, which came as no surprise logically. But who knows where chauvinism will lead us?
Cheers

T.S
Guest

I really hope the design for tempest can factor in some of the stuff from reaction engines. I know hypersonic will not be possible, but we could likely get a lead on competitors by going high mach. Mach 3-4 would make it a fantastic interceptor and very hard to shoot down. But I guess the design for that may affect stealth capabilities such as the coating not being able to withstand the heat generated?

JohnL
Guest
JohnL

Do you mean the heat exchanger or the whole H2 based engine? The heat exchanger uses liquid hydrogen as part of the dramatic cooling procedure so as currently configured would require a liqH2 supply. Then they may as well go the whole hog and build a Mach5 machine!

TrevorH
Guest
TrevorH

If anyone thinks I am getting into a sub orbital airliner to Australia at Match 5, they have another think coming.

Rudeboy
Guest
Rudeboy

No-one is going to build a mach 3 aircraft. The Tempest programme director has already said that they’re not going to try and build something with extreme speed. Supercruise up to m2.0 and more fuel is the way forward at present.

Nigel Collins
Guest
Nigel Collins

Interesting.

“At a briefing with reporters following his speech, Hillier said it was too early to start talking about a platform being earmarked for a hypersonic power plant.

He did, however, say that it was “part of the technologies being developed in parallel with Project Tempest,” Britain’s sixth-generation fighter program.”

https://www.defensenews.com/global/europe/2019/07/18/british-military-scrambles-to-speed-up-work-on-hypersonic-engines-weapons/

WeeWill
Guest
WeeWill

Having anything approaching manoeuvrable at hypersonic speeds is going to be very difficult to make compatible with keeping the squishy pink body inside, alive. Agree M2ish supercruise and vastly increased combat radius would be a more viable and useful aim.

Nigel Collins
Guest
Nigel Collins

Manned and unmanned don’t forget and can be configured to carry out different types of operations.

Carrying additional fuel inside the Bombay might also be an option for longer range missions along with tanker refuelling?

T.S
Guest

I have to say, it is all very confusing on the net, and hard to tell. There are a large number of articles out there, some make no mention of hypersonic or high mach, whilst others state rolls royce being issued funding to develop a hypersonic jet engine as part of the team tempest project. If the latter is true it certainly makes things more exciting, but adds huge technical complexity. I would think more realistically would be rolls royce using their new adaptive cycle engine with thermal management stuff from reaction allowing decent performance gains but not hypersonic.

Daveyb
Guest
Daveyb

That’s my take on the project. To have the full Sabre engine, would also require the cryogenic cooling for the heat exchanger. This probably being liquid helium or nitrogen will require lots of insulation = weight. Besides, you will need somewhere to store the pressure vessel, not to mention the evaporator and all the plumbing etc. The variable cycle engine is a given, as that’s the next evolution in jet engine technology and that’s achievable today. The EJ200 will probably form the foundation which the new engine is based around. It will likely have a greater core and fan diameters,… Read more »

Joe16
Guest
Joe16

Good stuff!
I know that this more high tech production method doesn’t provide as many jobs as the Nissan factory etc. but it provides new jobs that weren’t there before, rather than removes existing ones. And we’re going to need this kind of technology if we’re going to have a hope of a competitive domestic aircraft industry like we used to have.

BB85
Guest
BB85

I believe BAE is to release an updated design at the end of this year that is less conceptual and basically what will form the basis of Tempest. It will be interesting to see how much it differs. Its interest how similar the current one looks like the one recently released by Japan. I wonder who copied who.

ETH
Guest
ETH

That will certainly be interesting to see. Is it safe to say that the UK seems to be ahead of most other countries in 6th gen projects? Atleast, what they’ve shown to the public.

BB85
Guest
BB85

Until a demonstration fighter is in the air, its hard to know where everyone is. Korea are the furthest ahead although its not a 6th gen aircraft and does not have an internal weapons bay.
Japan is further ahead than us they are planning to start production around 2025.
That leaves Tempest and the Franco/German effort. I think France and German will get tied up in politics and sovereignty so we are better out of it. I think we need a large order from the middle east though to make the whole thing viable.

BB85
Guest
BB85

There is also China although hard to tell how advanced their designs are. They still seem to be struggling to domestically produce their own jet engines due to how complex they are to reverse engineer.

ETH
Guest
ETH

According to Wikipedia Japan will have its first prototype start production in 2024, whereas full scale production will start in 2031. Is this what you meant by production in 2025?

BB85
Guest
BB85

Yes sorry, pretty much. I’m assuming the turret 6 to 12 production aircraft will be purely for evaluation use before serial production starts in 2031. I don’t see the UK producing any prototype/production aircraft until 2030 at the earliest but who knows maybe they will surprise me.

Nigel Collins
Guest
Nigel Collins

They intend to build in half the time it took to get Typhoon from the concept phase to production.

https://www.ft.com/content/64011a42-28de-11ea-9305-4234e74b0ef3

4thwatch
Guest
4thwatch

With their renewed interest in Carriers will the Japanese make theirs a naval version? They understand the marine environment better than most. Is that why they split from joining with UK?

ETH
Guest
ETH

I’d say that’s pretty unlikely, unless they want to build some new catapult carriers along with it. Seeing as they just committed to an order of over 100 F35s.

TrevorH
Guest
TrevorH

Is Samsung provide the batteries they will run out after 6 months and you need to buy a new plane.

WeeWill
Guest
WeeWill

Thought the same with the Japanese effort. But when I first read it the timescale struck me as pretty ambitious – anyone know how it compares to Tempest?

BB85
Guest
BB85

The two aircraft will be extremely similar by the looks of things. It’s a pitty the Japanese did not want to go down the joint development approach but I think they have already paid for most of their own development themselves so why share it. I’m not sure if they will need US support for engines but looks like the rest they can do themselves.

T.S
Guest

I believe we may be giving support on the engines, rolls Royce one would presume.

WeeWill
Guest
WeeWill

Sorry I meant comparison of projected timescales.

TrevorH
Guest
TrevorH

If the shape is itself vital, would they show it? If the shape of stealth planes is now well understood then presumably they will be teased.

Daveyb
Guest
Daveyb

There is an cost/benefit interaction between an aircraft’s desired stealth performance, speed and manoeuvrability. If you look at the F22 Raptor, known to be very stealthy, highly manoeuvrable and pretty quick. The same general outline can also be seen in the Russian Su57 and Chinese J31 and to some extents the F35. The F22 is primarily designed for agility not speed, as its quite short and squat, with all the flying surfaces close together, making a composite delta shape. Granted it can still super-cruise, but its shorter length creates a lot of wave drag which limits its top speed. Now… Read more »

john melling
Guest

I believe BAe are looking at a 30% built by 3D printing and 50% of the Tempest by a robot
If any of this can be achieved and improved upon then we should see unit cost reductions in the future.
And a faster production line unless slowed down by the government dithering

BB85
Guest
BB85

Has most of the delays on recent fights been software related though. F35 software seemed to account for most of the cost and delay.

Julian
Guest
Julian

Yes, software is going to be a huge factor in timely delivery. Luckily though the UK is quite competitive in that area. It will be great to have sovereign control of that aspect of the final product. There was a huge fight over whether, even as a Tier 1 partner, the UK could see the F-35 source code that resulted in the UK threatening to pull out in the early stages. I confess that I don’t actually know who won that fight but I have a feeling that we actually lost and don’t have access to the source code (can… Read more »

ChariotRider
Guest
ChariotRider

Hi Julian,

We won that one and the UK writes quite a bit of the source code for the F-35. There was an article on here (if remember rightly) where a Lockheed Martin engineer highlighted that there were UK ‘finger pirints’ all over much of the softare. Which suggests a level of access and co-opperation.

You are right in thinking that it is hard to understand someone else’s software, I’ve had to do it myself on a small scale a loonnngggggg time ago and it can be a mind bending process as I remember.

Cheers CR

Julian
Guest
Julian

Hi ChariotRider, Ah, so you’re a fellow software engineer, or like me was at one point a long, long time ago. Thanks for setting me straight on the outcome of the UK-USA F-35 software fight. I also have quite a lot of experience trying to understand other people’s code but the F-35 code base is huge, one of the biggest software projects ever I think, so the magnitude of the task there must be enormous and way beyond anything that at least I have ever had experience of. The biggest code base I have ever had to come up to… Read more »

Xander Anderson
Guest
Xander Anderson

Let’s hope BAE gets the money they need to build this (as well as tempest themselves).

Nigel Collins
Guest
Nigel Collins

Excellent news, two types would be the smart way forward with a close eye kept on the progress made with EMALS onboard the Ford. POW would be a good choice for an early upgrade for this allowing a testing phase to be carried out with current aircraft before the arrival of Tempest. And yes, I am aware of the cost to do this, but we have to improve the capabilities of the carriers and what they will face in the coming decades. Tempest and drones are the future for the UK along with as much investment as is practically possible.… Read more »

Nigel Collins
Guest
Nigel Collins
TrevorH
Guest
TrevorH

Surely this is way off the mark. An aircraft to land on a ship is a complete different animal.

Let’s not forget that it’s likely the numbers of these very advanced planes will be relatively small and if F35 is any example, there will be a long gestation period and they will be continuously developed and have a very very long service life. I think it will be a slow process.

4thwatch
Guest
4thwatch

I for one am worried the RAF prevent this thing being future navalised from word go.
I want to know where they propose flying the darned thing. If we pull back from European defence what are the strategic options? Home defence?
I’ve always said every serious UK warplane should have the potential at some stage in its career to be navalised.
Now the RAF are involved with the RN they have a golden opportunity. Shouldn’t be afraid grasp the nettle. By 1944 the FAA were flying F4 Corsairs but they never appeared over Europe except over Norway.

John Hampson
Guest
John Hampson

The UK govt needs to save the Airbus plants and Rolls or there will be no British aircraft industrial base. Maybe scrap 30 planned F-35’s and build a mulit role “truck” based on the Japanese C-2. Missile truck, transport, patrol, bomb bays.

Helions
Guest
Helions

Too bad the UK and the Japanese couldn’t get together on the project…

https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/10/asia/japan-new-stealth-fighter-intl-hnk-scli/index.html

Cheers!

Nigel Collins
Guest
Nigel Collins
ETH
Guest
ETH

To be fair, the UK didn’t have much of a chance collaborating with Japan over the US. The US has already produced 4 stealth aircraft recently, and has a much larger industrial base for design. Not to mention Japan and the US are already military-integrated.

pkcasimir
Guest
pkcasimir

Japan has a defense treaty with the US and relies on the US as its “big brother” in confronting China. The UK and Japan doe not have a defense treaty or a real defense relationship. The UK is a middle level European power with very few, if any, combat resources in the Pacific. Why in the world would Japan collaborate with the UK?

Helions
Guest
Helions

I agree. That’s why they couldn’t get together on the project. The early noises in the affirmative made by the Japanese was just a means of leveraging the U.S. on access to our Gen VI Air Dominance Design after the fiasco with the F22 which they had fully expected to buy, were denied by Congress, and the result is the obsolescent JASDF fighter force that still uses 70’s vintage F4 Kai and aging F15s in the face of ever increasing modern PLAAF fighter forces. It’s my opinion that once the Japanese received assurances of being able to access the currently… Read more »

SoleSurvivor
Guest
SoleSurvivor

Who are the top level European powers if the UK are in the middle? 7. Defence equipment and technology cooperation That’s number 7 out of 16 areas of cooperation signed in the Japan-UK joint declaration on security cooperation, signed in 2017 by Shinzo Abe and Theresa May Since that was signed there has been unprecedented levels of Anglo-Japanese defence cooperation And perhaps Japan wants a “brother” as well as a “big brother” especially since said big brother tends to rape their way through Okinawa in their down time, what is it now, 127 convicted rapes and counting, and that’s just… Read more »

pkcasimir
Guest
pkcasimir

The UK is a mid-level power located in Europe. That’s what I wrote and that’s what the UK is. As far as the rest of your foaming at the mouth, anti-American diatribe is concerned, go pound sand. Any comparison to US forces in Japan with the Red Army in Berlin only demonstrates your dementia.

4thwatch
Guest
4thwatch

Compact enough to fly off a carrier.

Jason Holmes
Guest
Jason Holmes

Still not comfortable with the aesthetics of this design, doesn’t look quite right to me. I know looking pretty is nothing to do with capability…the French/German offering looks ‘better’. What do you fine people think?

ETH
Guest
ETH

I agree, the Franco-German one looks more refined. However, these are both concept models and not official designs, so we’ll have to wait and see.

TrevorH
Guest
TrevorH

The British one was just a gash up of a project that was cancelled a few years ago wasn’t it? If so, it’s no surprise if there are differences.

Andy
Guest
Andy

I think the orange is a bit garish.

Andy
Guest
Andy

I hope wider U.K. industry will benefit from these manufacturing technologies.

David Flandry
Guest
David Flandry

So when will an operational Tempest roll off the assembly line, so to speak?

Frank62
Guest
Frank62

Wikipedia says from 2035.

TrevorH
Guest
TrevorH

Production probably(?). Prototype earlier (?)

Frank62
Guest
Frank62

Sounds impressive but will we order enough aircraft to make it viable? We’ve under-ordered most large items in defence.

TrevorH
Guest
TrevorH

A wider comment…
Given this technology being developed… what are the practicalities of developing a stealth bomber?

A bomber can turn back, not so easy with a missile. (remember Dr. Strangelove)

Politically easier to stage bombers in UK (well England) and possibly in other friendly countries. Either replace subs completely or compliment them if we have fewer of them.

Stealth bombers can carry conventional “munitions” as well.

Just a thought…

T.S
Guest

I would like to see a scaled up Taranis based aircraft for this role – a medium unmanned high stealth bomber and reconnaissance platform would be a great tool to have. We have a real opportunity to rebuild our military aviation industry if we start following through on stuff – Tempest, Taranis, small Ucavs for the Mosquito project which will likely be small craft leaving the potential for a larger loyal wingman/indepentantly operating ucav down the line.

Daveyb
Guest
Daveyb

You have a number of options for a long range bomber, something slow and stealthy or an aircraft that relies on speed. The slow (sub-sonic) and stealthy approach would be quicker and cheaper to manufacture. Something along the lines of a blended wing body would be a good starting point. This type of design has a very large internal volume (good for fuel and a large bomb bay), but is also far more aerodynamically efficient than a traditional tube shaped aircraft and slightly better than a flying wing. The blended wing lends itself naturally to a stealthy shape, where the… Read more »

Derek
Guest
Derek

“The new facility underpins efforts of the UK-led Tempest programme to meet the UK’s ambition to remain at the forefront of the Combat Air sector by delivering more cost-effectively and in half the time of previous programmes”

…….Then the MOD started its procurement process …. 🤯