The world got a glimpse of the fighter plane of tomorrow as Britain's Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson unveiled a concept model of the Tempest next-generation fighter jet to mark the opening day of the Farnborough International Airshow. Coinciding with the release of the government's Combat Air Strategy report, the Tempest is designed to complement the existing Typhoon and F-35 Lightning II fighters.

The debut is of particular interest, not only because the Tempest will be one of the first sixth-generation fighters, but also because it comes a little over a year after France and Germany stiff-armed Britain out of the partnership to build the next Eurofighter. Now, the UK is gambling that it can take the expertise gained from the Typhoon and Britain's partnership in the F-35 program to create a new fighter project that will entice international partners and customers.

According to the Ministry of Defence, the "Team Tempest" partners include BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, MBDA, Leonardo, Defense Equipment & Support, and RAF Rapid Capability Office. Together, they will be working on the initial £2 billion (US$2.6 billion) project to design the fighter, with an emphasis on speeding up the development cycle that currently sees combat aircraft taking a generation to go from conception to service.

At the moment, the Tempest concept is a twin-engine, delta-wing, stealth fighter capable of carrying hypersonic missiles and controlling drone swarms. In addition, it has an advanced power and propulsion system capable of powering laser weapons and has reconfigurable, cyber-hardened communications that allow the aircraft to act as a flying command and control center.

Inside, the Tempest is highly upgradable and has a plug-and-play flexible payload system. There is also a suite of integrated multi-spectral and radio-frequency sensors, and a virtual cockpit. On the ground, the aircraft would be serviced by robotic support systems.

The Tempest is being developed as part of a strategy to not only bolster Britain's defenses, but to maintain the country's aerospace design and manufacturing sector, attract international partners to help in the Tempest's development, and to produce a variant of the aircraft suitable for the export market. In a sign of the "hurry up" nature of the project, Williamson says that he expects to see a business case by the end of the year and the first international partners onboard by the middle of next year.

If all goes to plan, the hope is that early project decisions will be confirmed by 2020, with the first investments by 2025. The ultimate goal is to have the Tempest operational by 2035, or five years earlier than the Franco-German Eurofighter. It will then operate alongside the F-35 and the Typhoon, which is expected to remain in service until the 2040s.

"We have been a world leader in the combat air sector for a century, with an enviable array of skills and technology, and this strategy makes clear that we are determined to make sure it stays that way," says Williamson. "It shows our allies that we are open to working together to protect the skies in an increasingly threatening future – and this concept model is just a glimpse into what the future could look like."

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