At the Farnborough International Air Show a next generation fighter concept model called ‘Tempest’ was revealed.
The project, named ‘Tempest’ is designed to showcase key technologies that will be important in the future. The jet, might end up looking nothing like the concept model.
BAE say that a future combat air system must be able to survive the most challenging combat environments meaning that payload-range, speed and manoeuvrability will be key.
“We expect that the system will be equipped with a range of sensors including radio frequency, active and passive electro-optical sensors and advanced electronic support measures to detect and intercept threats.”
The system say the defence giant, is likely to operate with kinetic and non-kinetic weapons.
The integration of Laser Directed Energy Weapons for self-defence and use within visual range combat is also highly likely. The use of directed energy weapons on aircraft is becoming reality as the US Air Force will shortly begin testing a laser that will be mounted on an F-15.“We have got tests starting this summer and the flight tests next summer,” Jeff Stanley, deputy assistant secretary of the US Air Force for science, technology and engineering, told reporters.
“There are still some technical challenges that we have to overcome, mainly size, weight, power.”
The Pentagon last year awarded a $26 million contract to Lockheed Martin for a laser program called SHiELD (Self-protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator). The overall aim is to put a laser system on aircraft with an output of about 50 kw to test their ability against unmanned aircraft and missiles.
Another driver for the concept say BAE is that air forces of the future ‘will require a fighter system that is highly flexible and can be applied to a wide variety of military operations’, a multi-role aircraft then, which is not really all to different to most new aircraft today.
“Operators will have the ability to rapidly adapt the system to perform new functions or to change its performance.
Depending on the mission, ‘role fit’ additions such as low observable conformal fuel tanks, weapons dispensers, air launched UAV dispensers, large modular sensors, long range oblique photography systems for reconnaissance and Laser Directed Energy Weapons could be available.
Adaptability will be built into the system design, with systems architectures which support a ‘plug and play’ approach, easily integrating new algorithms and hardware.”
The system will also support ‘scalable autonomy’ say BAE, to provide a number of modes of unmanned operation and a range of pilot decisions aids when manned flight is being conducted. This concept is known to most as ‘optionally manned’.
An optionally piloted vehicle is a hybrid between a conventional aircraft and an unmanned aerial vehicle, able to fly with or without a human crew on board the aircraft. The thinking is that, unimpeded by a human’s physiological limitations, an OPV is able to operate under more adverse conditions and/or for greater endurance times.
The USAF are also pursuing this with newer aircraft, notably the B-2 bomber replacement, the B-21. A document DODIG-2015-170, published last year named “Audit of the Acquisition of the Long Range Strike Bomber,” as well as other documents in a heavily redacted form, contain highly relevant official confirmations as to the aircraft’s baseline requirements.
The document clearly states that the B-21 will indeed be optionally manned as a core requirement.
Retaining on-board controls, an OPV can operate as a conventional aircraft during missions for which direct human control is preferred or desired as an immediate option.
Another trend being embraced by ‘Team Tempest’ is an ability deliver significant information advantage and mission effectiveness, the future combat air system will act as a ‘force multiplier’, interoperating with a wide range of other civil and military platforms and services across air, land, sea, space and cyber domains – as well as unmanned systems. This technology started taking shape on the F-35.
In fact, such is the F-35s sensor and data fusion capabilities, a small number of F-35s could provide the UK and her coalition allies with situational awareness within defended airspace where platforms such as E-3 AWACS and E-8 JSTARS would be unable to operate.F-35s could find and designate priority targets within defended airspace for a less stealthy fleet to attack from a relatively safe distance, further enhancing coalition capability.
The F-35s value is not only in its stealth or combat capability, it’s also in the flying sensor network it creates in the battle space. The ability of the F-35 to drastically improve the combat capability of other assets was demonstrated recently when an F-35B and Aegis Weapon System worked together during a live fire exercise, with the F-35 passing sensor data to another platform which then engaged the target.
Using the F-35 as a broad area sensor can significantly increase a warships ability to detect, track and engage a target. An unmodified US Marine Corps F-35B from the Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron, based in Edwards Air Force Base, acted as an elevated sensor to detect an over-the-horizon threat.
The aircraft then sent data through its Multi-Function Advanced Data Link to a ground station connected to USS Desert Ship, a land-based launch facility designed to simulate a ship at sea. Using the latest Aegis Weapon System Baseline 9.C1 and a Standard Missile 6, the system successfully detected and engaged the target.
The exercise was the first live fire missile event that successfully demonstrated the integration of the F-35 to support Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air and represent a very promising exploration into the interoperability of the F-35B with other naval assets.
Command and control of other systems, such as UAVs, will be also enabled from a fully customisable virtual cockpit say BAE, ‘with advanced human machine interfaces including eye tracking and gesture based controls, offering intuitive and sophisticated mission management’.
“Using a similar virtual approach, both mission planning on the ground, and the remote command of unmanned aircraft can be enhanced, ensuring a rapid and effective understanding of the battlespace.”
The FCAS will be quickly and affordably up-gradable according to another graphic.
BAE also say in a release that advanced manufacturing techniques will play a significant role in reducing the unit production cost of a FCAS, and will be a key enabler of flexibility and upgradeability. For example, in-service support costs can be reduced by using robotics adapted from manufacturing to re-fuel, re-arm, role-fit, and repair.
“Exoskeletons, wearable displays and computing to provide hands-free instructions, guidance and technical publications could further reduce in-service support costs by helping to improve resource flexibility, improve the quality of work, and the speed at which tasks are performed. The use of artificial intelligence and data analytics in vehicle health and mission related data will improve aircraft availability as well as increase the mission success probability.
Training costs could be significantly reduced using the virtual cockpit and virtual mission planning system as a result of their low cost, flexibility, and extreme portability.”
Team Tempest Future Combat Air System concept via BAE.
While just an early look at what could possibly be, the concept aircraft and the concept technologies it represents gives an indication of the types of technologies that are developing around the world and are coming to the forefront of combat aircraft design.