Unmanned ‘force multipliers’ resulting from the Tempest programme might find their way onto the Queen Elizabeth class carriers, it has emerged.

Lord West of Spithead recently asked in a written question:

“To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the Ministry of Defence intends the Tempest programme to produce a carrier-capable solution.”

Earl Howe, Minister of State for the Ministry of Defence, replied:

“The F-35 is at the beginning of its service life and is the most effective and developed aircraft capable of Queen Elizabeth Class (QEC) aircraft carrier operations.

The combat air acquisition programme is looking at the replacement of Typhoon’s capabilities and any new combat air system will need to be interoperable with the Carrier Enabled Power Projection (CEPP) programme.

The concept phase of the acquisition programme will consider QEC basing for any unmanned force multipliers which may form part of the future combat air system.”

A key talking point surrounding the Tempest programme has been the ability to deploy and manage air launched ‘swarming’ Unmanned Air Vehicles through a flexible payload bay allows the system to address dangerous Anti-Access Area Denial environments.
In the US, Phase III of a programme that will see C-130 aircraft drop drone swarms has now started according to reports.
Concept imagery of Tempest dropping drones via BAE.

The US Air Force Chief Scientist in 2017 said that F-35 pilots will be able to control a small group of drones flying nearby from the aircraft cockpit in the air, performing sensing, reconnaissance and targeting functions.

With whatever results from Tempest being able to use swarming technology to control drones and the F-35 becoming capable of doing so, it is only logical that capability will come into use.


  1. QE Class will see huge technological changes before their decommissioning, and I’m sure drones of all shapes and sizes will be deployed from them. Current close in vessel protection is adequate at the moment, but I fear new anti-ship missile systems could render them obsolete soon than we may think. I’ve always thought that a ‘net’ system to establish a 180-degree physical dome shield, would be the ultimate protection. Maybe drone swarms could be one way to achieve that level of protection???

    • I have not a clue about such things.

      But I have wondered before if a system similar to Tanks extra skirt armour that prematurely detonate incoming shells be applicable to a ship? Even plausable?

      Indeed like a net that is passive and intercepts incoming. Or would ASMs simply punch through such a device?

      Shoot me down folks.

      • Would they punch through if they detected on contact? If the drone net was deployed say two hundred yards out from the vessel, that may just enable the target to suffer less serious damage? What I’m suggesting is a modern-day barrage balloon. (or balloons)

      • Older style anti carrier missiles where bigger and aimed for the side of ships so your tank skirts might have works with normal warheads, but the plan was to use nuclear warheads during war. Modern missiles are smaller, faster, more manoueuvrable and better AI, they aim for the flight deck, thinking being sinking a carrier is to hard without a nuclear warhead, disrupting flight operations for days is easier without going to a nuke option

        • Yes dont modern missiles have more of a from above attack profile as opposed to side on?

          Fire a huge net upwards that tangles it??!

          • I really like your net idea Daniele, but I do have to agree with Rear Gunner. In theory the escorts should be able to deal with any missile threat, but that is why folks are designing missiles with multiple decoys, variable attack profiles, hypersonic etc, basically too many targets traveling faster than escorts can react. Thats the theory anyway. The next few years should see some very interesting developments as limitations are being removed and technology matures

          • Daniele, when you are talking about a supersonic Heavyweight ASM,it’s got so much potential and kinetic energy involved any close in system is not going to be able to prevent a mission kill. Imagine a 3000kg missile travelling at 1400ms, which is I believe would have somewhere in the region of 2.9 to the power 9 Jules of kinetic energy, which is unstoppable when looking at it from physically stopping it point of view. Which is why diverting it from its path or killing at significant distance is the only way.

      • I’ve always thought a Trimaran would be the ideal hull form for a ship. As the outer hulls would be more sacrificial buoyancy aids. Bit like the old battleship use of separated armour interspersed with cabins to maintain the integrity of the most important parts of the ship.

      • Your idea Daniele of an outer hull fitted with reactive armour could be one way to deal with torpedoes? The added weight could be detrimental to performance. What may be one answer, is not drones but electronic blocking that would create an impregnable shield?

        • It’s just throwing my idea out there.

          Naval types I’m sure will dismantle it.

          Isn’t electronic blocking part of the EW and ESM suite of vessels anyway, or is that all comms related?

          That shield idea sounds more like Cyber, much of which is classified so who knows what capabilities may exist?

          Can an ASM be downed purely by direct interference rather than fooled by chaff, manouvere, CIWS, etc?

    • I’d say current close in weapons systems are already largely obsolete against modern ASMs. They are really there to defend against low end asymmetric threats like FAIC or terrorist actions when entering/leaving port.

      Why? Because of the speed and/or maneuverability of modern ASM. Consider a Mach 3 missile. Its traveling at ~1km/second. Even if that missile is successfully intercepted at 1km out from the ship you’re still likely to be hit with debris traveling at extremely high speed one second later, potentially shredding radars, sensors and comms and taking the ship out of the action.

      If that same missile is sea skimming, then the ship may only have ~30-35 seconds to react after the missile is first detected above the radar horizon, unless there is an AEW asset that detects it further out. A hypersonic Mach 6 missile will double the speed and halve the time to detect and destroy, and will have far greater kinetic energy, requiring destruction further out to avoid the debris hitting the ship.

      But ASM can also be slower, sub-sonic, stealthy/LO and just far more agile, also making them much harder to target by traditional CIWS. Raw speed is just one attribute.

      • Yes the energy invoved is actually a bit beyond what you can easily picture. the potential energy in the warheads on these missiles seem almost a waste of effort when you look at the kinetic energy involved. KE = mass x velocity squared, this means the kinetic energy is just insane if you use a Brahmos published figures:

        brahmos kinetic energy (assuming 600kg use of fuel) = 3000kg x ( 1400ms x 1400ms )

        = 3000 x 1960,000

        =5,880,000,000 Kg,m2/s2 (joules)

        Compare that to the kinetic energy of an intercity 125 (470 tonnes) doing 125 miles an hour

        = 470000kg x (55.8ms x 55.8ms)

        =470000 x 3113.64

        = 1,463,410,000 Kg,m2/s2

        So as long as I did not miss a couple of 0s a 3 tons heavyweight anti ship missile travelling at Mach three has the same kinetic energy as about four full fat (2 engines, 7 mark 3 carriages) intercity 125s doing 125 miles an hour.

        Or as a Kg of TNT has potential energy of 4,100,000 joules, it’s got the same energy as about 1200 Kgs of TNT.

        Not sure how you deal with all that energy, other than making it miss and hit the ocean, even a bit of Debris, say a couple of 10s of Kgs of mass travelling at that speed is going to tear a big hole through anything.

        • Sobering when it’s described like that.

          The equation is all double Dutch to me but never mind!

          Short answer you’re screwed save shooting down or it missing.

          • If something with that amount of energy, going at that speed, shaped like a pencil hits a ship, will it do that much damage or just pass through with an entry and exit wound? Will the warhead have time to explode before it has passed through the ship? We must be talking mili seconds?

            I understand the exit wound will be fairly large, but by comparison to say a conventional bomb detonating 2 decks down?

            Will the missiles own speed make it less effective than a missile with the same sized warhead travelling at lesser speeds?

        • The way to deal with hypersonics is of course to take them out well before they are anywhere close to a ship. Easier said than done though. In the absence of AEW, the radar horizon on a sea skimmer is going to be about 30-35 km, so that 30 second window to respond to a Mach 3 missile before being hit is in reality much shorter. Mach 6 is pretty sobering.

          The window is actually worse than ~30 seconds because its reduced by the time taken detecting/confirming the threat (no rabbit-in-the-headlights time allowed), launching the counter weapon and having the counter weapon be fast enough to intercept the hypersonic missile far enough away that debris hits to the ship are minimised or eliminated. BTW this is a good reason not to load up T45 with other roles beyond AAW, because if you need air defence for real, then there may be very little time to respond, especially if dealing with multiple hypersonics, and you need to be on top of your AAW game.

          There are some trade offs to hypersonics though. Their very speed makes it difficult to conduct extreme maneuvers without breaking up due to extreme g-forces, so their possible path to target is more limited, helping with counter measures. They are likely to be the only thing in the sky heading towards the ships at Mach 3+, so not mistakable for other aircraft. They will also be very hot so very visible to thermal detectors in counter missiles, ship or aircraft based detection systems. Perhaps worth speculating that even if a Wildcat didn’t pick up a hypersonic on its radar it might still see it on its thermal imagery, enough to provide a heads up well outside the radar horizon. Their speed also means any material from a counter missile detonated in their flight path may do significant damage, particularly to flight control/guidance surfaces such as the fins on Brahmos, sending the missile off target, tumbling or straight into the sea; assuming the missile wasn’t shredded.

          • Where’s that edit button when you need it. I kept using “hypersonic” when I should have used “supersonic” in the above post. So “supersonics” are at Mach 3+ in the example, not “hypersonics” which would be Mach 5+. Hypersonics, whether cruise missiles or particularly Hypersonic Glide Vehicles, will be more challenging to counter.

  2. “Earl Howe, Minister of State for the Ministry of Defence, replied…”

    Its good to see a Howe involved in Defence. just like old times.

  3. For those following my petition, we struck gold over the weekend Some of my emails / letters have go through to the right people and been shared. 7000 have signed since thursday and on Sunday it was the 3rd biggest trending petition with 4500 sign.

    Almost at the 1st target of 10,000 which gets a Govt response – so watch this space. When is gets there I’ll be writing to Gavin Williamson and Stuart Andrew ccing my local MP and Johnny Mercer from the Defence Select Committee setting out why I raised the petition and what answers I’m seeking in the reply. If anyone else wants to, then feel free to join the party

    • Andy, are proposing the order goes to a UK yard without a UK only competition. Once you remove competition you have to bend to the yards contractual demands not just cost but late delivery penalties could be removed. Very dangerous for the MoD imo. Whilst there’s the argument some cost comes back through taxes there’s no way for the MoD to get its hands on this meaning paying more for these ships leaves a hole in budget = cuts else where. Its a good cause but could have unintended consequences if not executed correctly.

      • Agreed. I understand entirely. In an ideal world there should be a competition as with type 31. The problem in the UK is that one part of government lands business with costs e.g. Business rates, apprentice levy, environment costs etc this forces prices up. Another part of government e.g. MOD can’t afford those high costs. MPs say we want a high wage economy and that means high tender costs. Ideally the treasury would increase funding to reflect this, but I won’t hold my breath. I will make this point in my letter.
        I work in a retail company so know all about competition.
        If we didn’t do anything we’d soon have no shipbuilding left other than BAe systems which is a monopoly

        • Andy, thanks for explaining in more detail. I agree we need a high wage economy but it doesn’t need to mean high tender costs. I can buy a Nissan Qashqai built in the UK the same spec as a Korean built Kia Sportage for the same price, so the UK can be competitive. We need our shipbuilding industry to use these orders to make the same improvements and if you read Sir John Parkers report he makes these same recommendations.

          Also don’t take all the headline news at face value UK ship building is not collapsing any time soon, quick look at places like Cammell Lairds twitter feed show a lot going on in the industry.

          The government is also investing in new tech, again Cammell Laird leading the way.

  4. In the short term, is it possible that uavs be utilised as additional aew assets from the QE class carriers, alongside the Crowsnest Merlins?

  5. Is it valid to ask why bother with stealth when employing UAVs? The emissions from the mother aircraft, when communicating with the drones, will surely reveal its presence and location. If there are no communication emissions then the UAVs would be fully autonomous and a manned mother is not required. A cheaper, more robust, more capable Typhoon would perform just as well and be capable of carrying a great range of weapons.

  6. No news about the Italian Government being seriously P***ed off with the French and Germans, for excluding them from the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) program. The Italian Government have said they want to join the Tempest program, as it stands a better chance of being produced and meeting their requirements.
    So UK, Italy, possible Sweden and Japan could be part of the Tempest program, with these countries involved the Tempest could actually be a better product than the Franco-German effort!

    • Defensenews website posted an article on it.

      Germany seems to be doing it up most to disrupt the Eurofighter program by blocking arms sales to Saudi putting the BAe sale in doubt.

    • You could probably add Canada to that list of countries based on how they are extending out-of-service date for their Hornets by buying used aircraft from Oz.

      They are sorted out to 2031/2 at this point, apparently have no desire to buy anything from Boeing following the Bombardier fiasco and by the early 2030’s Typhoon, Rafale, and Gripen will be looking a little long in the tooth for those that don’t already have them in the fleet. F35 would still be very relevant but its not primarily an air superiority fighter that Canada really requires for N.American defence.


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