Tempest: 'Too Early To Say' Where Sixth-Generation Aircraft Will Be Built

The sixth-generation Tempest fighter jet could be in service by the 2030s.

A defence minister has stated it is "too early to say" where parts of the sixth-generation Tempest fighter jet will be built.

Minister for Defence Procurement Jeremy Quin has answered questions about the future combat aircraft, which is expected to be operational by the 2030s, from Shadow Defence Secretary John Healey.

Asked where the jet will be manufactured and how many jobs would be supported, Mr Quin said: "It is too early to say where work will be undertaken.

"But industrial partners estimate that over 1,800 new STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) jobs have been created in over 300 companies nationwide, sustaining and supporting a sector which employs tens of thousands of workers across the UK.

Watch our documentary looking at the Tempest project in more detail here.

"Tempest will exploit our industrial base to create a next-generation combat air enterprise.

"The early preparatory work of the FCAS [Future Combat Air System] Technology Initiative and Team Tempest had an aspiration to secure employment for 1,800 people directly supporting the programme.

"Based on information from our industrial partners we believe that estimate has been exceeded, with over 2,000 people now engaged in Tempest enterprise activities alone."

He added: "It is too early to say where specific components of Tempest will be built."

Answering a question about how much discussion he had had with his European ministerial counterparts, Mr Quin said the UK continued to work closely with allies on the project. 

Watch: What challenges face a sixth-generation fighter jet?

"In December 2020 the UK, Italy and Sweden signed the FCAS trilateral MOU [memorandum of understanding]," he said.

"This enabling MOU signals the start of a long-term partnership that will allow us to begin the critical trilateral R&D work as part of the FCAS Concept and Assessment phase in 2021."

What is the Tempest programme?

The Tempest project is working on creating the UK's sixth-generation fighter jet, with mind-reading flight systems and highly advanced artificial intelligence among the concepts being explored.

It is also looking at the use of a software reconfigurable wearable cockpit, using the Striker II helmet.

This could see the Tempest aircraft fitted with no physical dial or screen in the cockpit.

Instead, the helmet allows the pilot to see the outside world and displays information in a virtual 3D landscape overlay of the outside seen through the visor, as well as physical objects which appear in reality.

Pilots may flying the aircraft could eventually be flanked by smaller, less costly, less capable planes, known as Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Aircraft (LANCA), allowing for information to be fed to commanders and crew.

The UK is working with both Italy and Sweden on the programme's development.

Cover image: Tempest aircraft (Picture: MOD).