back to article UK will be HQ for high-flying next-gen fighter jet treaty with Italy, Japan

Britain will be acting as headquarters for a not-so-secret next-generation fighter aircraft program the UK has linked up with Japan and Italy to build, the MoD revealed late last week. The trio are hoping to develop a sixth-generation warplane by 2035, as they look over their shoulders at the collective efforts of the US, …

  1. Lurko

    Still fighting the last war

    If the last twenty years have taught us anything about air combat, it is that UAVs are the most scaleable and versatile means of both reconnaissance or combat. And yet again, the MoD and RAF decide they want a hugely expensive vehicle to justify jet jockeys.

    All seems to have gone very quiet on the UK or international alliance front when it comes to UAVs. It's almost like there's precisely zero in the way of defence procurement strategy....

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Still fighting the last war

      Lurko,

      The army have been operating Switchblade personal drones for years. I think we may have given most of our updated ones we already had on order before the war started to Ukraine, so the newest ones may not be with the forces yet. But there are drones at the platoon level already. We've also just got new anti-drone electronic warfare stuff into service - as well as a nifty modded rifle scope that works out how much to lead a drone by in order to use it for deflection shots - as a short term fix. Plus there's various stuff on test in Ukraine. Martlet and Starstreak are also excellent at shooting down drones - Martlet is a sort of general purpose cheap missile that uses the Starstreak launcher - but is good for the slower drones you don't want to waste your dedicated shoulder fired SAMs on. As well as bunkers and soft-skinned vehicles.

      The RAF also just took delivery of our first Protector drones (to replace Reaper). That's the General Atomics Sky Guardian.

      The Navy are also looking at buying some of these for ocean surveillance. As well as having tested one of the smaller models (Grey Eagle?) last month off the Prince of Wales in its testing cruise in the US.

      Are you sure it's going quiet on drones? Or just you not noticing? This is all from the top of my head - I'm sure if I Googled British armed forces drones I'd get even more stuff.

      1. Lurko

        Re: Still fighting the last war

        "Are you sure it's going quiet on drones? Or just you not noticing? This is all from the top of my head - I'm sure if I Googled British armed forces drones I'd get even more stuff."

        Reflecting the substance of the article, I was thinking about the decision to spend circa £50bn, perhaps double that on a manned aircraft that won't be ready for service for a decade and a half, and about the issue of investment in the manufacture and design, IP and high value components of UAV.

        But let's go on a short search for UAV's used by the British military: Switchblade is a US product, Protector and Reaper are US products, Sky Guardian a US product, Gray Eagle is a US product. Watchkeeper (as per comments below) is a dismal effort to put a British label on an essentially Israeli product. Desert Hawk is US, Puma AE is US, Stalker VXE30 is US, Thor is Israeli, Magni X is Israeli, Skydio is US, Indago is US. Even the smaller stuff like DroneD40, Black Hornet are Australian and Norwegian respectively.

        You can argue that's about buying from the market leaders, or trying to, but it seems daft to piss our limited development funds up the wall on a hugely expensive manned jet which is of little use against any nation with a vaguely competent air defence environment, and pointless when bombing third world hell holes. I acknowledge that there's some pretty limited UK UAV development going on, but what has already been undertaken has produced little or nothing (Taranis, Project Mosquito). It's pretty clear that UAVs will be an ever larger part of future air operations as your comments show, yet it seems that for UAVs we're mostly planning to rely on technology other nations are prepared to sell.

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: Still fighting the last war

          Lurko,

          If you don't invest in the fighter projects of the future - then that future never happens and you've no fighter to buy when the future arrives. Typhoon is going to need replacing at some point. We get quite a lot of workshare on F35 - but if we don't design fighters then we will lose that capability. Of course there's an argument that this is good, because we ended up paying more for each Typhoon than you can now buy an F35 for. Just because fewer Typhoons were ordered, and so the R&D costs get apportioned among fewer aircraft. On the other hand, Typhoon is a lot cheaper to maintain and to fly - and F35's costs haven't come down in the way that was hoped.

          Hopefully by getting Japan as a partner, things will improve a bit. I hope they'll turn out to be a more reliable partner than Germany - which will mean more orders and also more development spending. However exports are going to be a problem. The Saudis are interested - but it's not going to be an affordable program, and the Saudis don't exactly have the best reputation. It's one thing to sell them more Typhoon - it's another to sell them a top-of-the-line new stealth plane with all the latest shinies.

          The question is then, do we think there'll be no new generations of manned fighters. I don't. AI isn't a real thing at the moment. Computers can assimilate vast amounts of data, and do some amazing things - but that's not intelligence. And I don't think this stuff is going to work without human intervention for a good long while yet. Which sadly leaves us with "and". We need to work on drones "and" manned planes.

          I'd certainly agree that the MoD has had far too many initial information and early drone research programs - for limited amounts of product. Although they've certainly splashed some cash on UK companies. But your argument was that the MoD wasn't doing anything. And now you've morphed it into how they're buying too much foreign off-the-shelf.

          In one way it's hard to know. For example Taranis was a tech demonstrator that has disappeared into the GCAP program. Was that cash wasted? Was the drone testing designs for aerodynamics / stealth for the fighter? Or was it all for the drone program? Nobody who knows is telling.

          On the other hand the Navy are doing a bit better. They're the only service that seem to have their procurement reasonably well sorted out. There are some advanced drone mine-clearing small boats and mini-subs in at least initial operation. They've also got a bunch of cargo carrying drones that they've actually tested on ships - and there are various medium sized drone copters that look like they're useful enough to get ordered for surveillance and/or cargo.

          The problem is that a lot of the drones being used in Ukraine are a bit crap. But they're what can be bodged together from available components. The MoD are probably going too far the other way, into teh gold-plated. But we probably need a happy medium.

        2. RPF

          Re: Still fighting the last war

          Just because drones have proven effective in some roles, that does not mean manned fighters are a waste of money. There isn't a drone around that could take out a Bear turbo-prop bomber, let alone an Su-23 or even Su-31.

          1. sedregj
            Mushroom

            Re: Still fighting the last war

            "There isn't a drone around that could take out a Bear turbo-prop bomber"

            I can remember seeing Lightnings with after burners on, nearly stood on their tails, going up as nearly as fast as the pilots could withstand. Presumably fast enough to worry the Bear or Badger or whatever but not fast enough to give away their full capability. Being silver, they sparkle in the sun.

    2. HuBo
      Childcatcher

      Re: Still fighting the last war

      Hmmmm ... not sure I agree. Airbus' FCAS certainly has a lot of drones surrounding its blue jetfighter on their webpage (Eurodrone unmanned aerial system).

      For the RAF, somewhere around the news about how "Santa takes to the skies onboard RAF Benson Puma to deliver Christmas presents", we also find news of how the Protector drone "flies in the UK for the first time" ( https://www.raf.mod.uk/news/articles/rafs-protector-flies-in-the-uk-for-the-first-time/ ).

      The big question for me though, is, how could they possibly have named a future aeroplane after Supermarionation hero Captain Troy Tempest? Would'nt that name have best been bestowed to a Teufel fish-of-fear fighting submarine instead (Stingray?)?!

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: Still fighting the last war

        HuBo,

        My understanding is that France and Germany (and Spain and maybe Belgium) are looking for new fighters at a later date. In the 2040s. So FCAS may do drones first, to operate with current fighters - while developing the next generation plane with that experience in mind.

        Whereas GCAP is to come into service as soon as possible. Japan are pretty worried by the Chinese air force. I'm sure the drone stuff will happen in parallel, but the fighter is the priority.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Still fighting the last war

          They were not looking for that date. They are landed with it because still they argue and nothing has been built. Germany is considering buying the British Tempest instead.

      2. nobody who matters

        Re: Still fighting the last war

        "..............how could they possibly have named a future aeroplane after Supermarionation hero Captain Troy Tempest? ....."

        You are perhaps too young, or too poorly educated to know about the Hawker Tempest (which replaced the Hurricane during WW2 ;)

        Besides, it follows on from the naming protocol which gave us Lightning, Tornado, Typhoon and Lightning again.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Still fighting the last war

          "Besides, it follows on from the naming protocol which gave us Lightning, Tornado, Typhoon and Lightning again."

          ...and Typhoon again, the first also intended as a Hurricane replacement during WWII, and the only reason I remember this is because I built the Airfix kit of it about 45 or so years ago :-)

    3. elsergiovolador Silver badge

      Re: Still fighting the last war

      UAV can't handle a payload necessary for having a strategic impact.

      UAVs could be used in tandem - to distract the air defence while the jet strikes the actual targets.

      You can't win a war with UAVs alone.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Still fighting the last war

        Tempest itself can be used as a UAV. Fly by wire is part of the requirements.

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: Still fighting the last war

          Tempest itself can be used as a UAV. Fly by wire is part of the requirements.

          I know that the original program announcements have it being "optionally manned". They've got the software to fly it nowadays, so you can see the idea. However are they actually going to spend the money to put in a cockpit and ejector seat and all that - and still have the airframe strong enough to say pull 20G - when it can't do that without losing the pilot? Although I suppose you could have a limited high G mode where the pilot presses a button to let the computer take over the dogfight, render him unconscious and so carry on flying the plane until he wakes up?

          But let's say it's got a working drone mode for missions that are too risky and might kill the pilot. Well if it's a £100m aircraft - are they going to want to risk it? And if it's not that risky - why not have a pilot along for the decisions that humans can make? I can't see it working unless they build two types of plane. But I suppose we're in a transitional phase where nobody quite knows what they're doing, or what will work in ten years time.

          Final point. What's a drone? A drone doesn't have to be an aircraft. A drone could be based on a missile. So for example there are projects to make electronic warfare versions of both Meteor and Brimstone. Meteor is a hundred and classified mile range air-to-air missile powered by a throttleable ramjet, so can go slow for longer range or fast to get quick distance from the aircraft. And a few of those - admittedly hideously expensive, flying interference could be very useful when trying to get into contested airspace. Brimstone is pretty cheap though. And the next version can also swarm. You can already give a bunch of them an order to go and kill all tanks in this area, and they recognise them from an uploaded database - you can even specify if you don't tanks, kill artillery. They'll even wait until another missile that's attacking a target has finished and only attack it if it's still there. Not sure how effective that is. But the next version will swarm - they'll inter-communicate and pick targets and pass target locations between them. While some can be operating as jammers to protect themselves or the aircraft. I think the MoD, and quite a lot of Europe, have got this right with MDBA. Make families of missiles that share the same development and keep iterating to improve them and give them more capabilities. Which reduces the price of the common components and keeps improving your force. So missiles as drones.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Still fighting the last war

            "Although I suppose you could have a limited high G mode where the pilot presses a button to let the computer take over the dogfight, render him unconscious and so carry on flying the plane until he wakes up?"

            Didn't the Germans do that back in WWII with the Stuka dive bomber? ISTR reading that when it pulled up, the pilot would black out for a short while so the act of pulling up was designed to be automated once the bomb was released. Not quite what is envisioned for the Tempest, but an early beginning of automating where the pilot might not be able to cope with the G forces exerted in some manoeuvrers.

            1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

              Re: Still fighting the last war

              I’m pretty sure it was a standard feature on most good dive bombers. They had an auto-recovery system to pull them out of the dive in case the pilot blacked out.

              I also remember an RAF Battle of Britain veteran talking about it. Maybe Geoffrey Wellham, maybe another. But he’d worked out he recovered very quickly from G-LOC, and so he’d deliberately pull very hard turns if a dogfight was getting sticky. Mostly he’d regain consciousness, recover the aircraft and leave. But it might give him a shot at the enemy too.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Still fighting the last war

            Yes, yes they are. Key core requirement is full capability to fly without a pilot. IF you want to. Maybe 7th gen is no cockpit (or no box office for ladies) but not yet.

    4. Binraider Silver badge

      Re: Still fighting the last war

      If you had read anything about the Tempest programme, you would know that they are working on both a manned and unmanned version. They might not be headline news, but there are plenty of drone programmes out there to fulfill different roles.

      Iranian kamikaze drones are "wonderful" at a specific battlefield role; one definitely not fulfilled by the Tempest. But this logic also runs the other direction. F22/Tempest/SU57/J35 etc all have very different roles to any drone in circulation.

      One of the most interesting rumours about the wider programme is that Mitsubishi are rumoured to have approached Northrop-Grumman re. the old YF-23, which would make for an extremely interesting basis for the project. Adding 30 years of engine and electronics development onto an airframe derived from that platform would speculatively be "quite something".

      A lot of people in the know from the time thought the YF-23 was the better airframe; both faster and stealthier than the YF-22. Good enough is the enemy of perfection, and so the F22 won (for that amongst a bunch of other reasons, including a rumour that Boeing needed a military contract to keep that side of the company ticking over - noting that the Super Hornet wasn't quite a thing at that point).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Still fighting the last war

        There is indeed a British advanced Tempest like UAV but this is a different project. Tempest itself full version will be optionally pilot less and fly by wire.

    5. This post has been deleted by its author

  2. Denarius

    recent events have changed strategies

    Seems the stealth fad is passing. Latest projects seem to indicate performance is back at top of list. Getting some range too so fighters dont need tankers right behind. Perhaps they could just update the F23 design as the Japanese are supposed to be doing.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: recent events have changed strategies

      Stealth isn't a fad. Or at least it's not been proven not to work so far. It's not been tested in peer-to-peer conflict - and it wouldn't be the first time that a peacetime idea failed to cope with reality. But the uptake of F35 by all sorts of Western forces suggests it's been winning competitions against often cheaper alternatives.

      Performance is also important. But the F22 doesn't sacrifice anything in the way of performance. And it's not like the F35 is any kind of slouch.

      From what I've read the US NGAD is going to be big, and may even be the size of a medium bomber. So it can carry lots of missiles and even more fuel and fly long distances over the Pacific - on the assumption that airbases too near to China will have had unfortunate accidents.

      I'm assming the GCAP will be a large fighter with maybe two crew - if they're serious about operating drones with the aircraft. Plus lots of electronic warfare and fancy radar kit to play with. Which are increasingly becoming the same thing with modern high-powered AESA radars. Which can do their own radar-y stuff, while simultaneously jamming other peoples' radars.

      Finally look at Ukraine. Russia with over 1,000 front-line aircraft couldn't surpress Ukraine's pre-war air force of around 60-odd combat jets. And that was partly incompetence buy mostly their inablility to deal with Ukraine's air defences - mostly made up of 1970s and 80s Soviet kit. Stealth sure looks like it would have been dead useful under those circumstances.

      And if we have to fight Russia or China - lots of that air defence kit is going to be two or three generations better than that.

    2. StrangerHereMyself Silver badge

      Re: recent events have changed strategies

      Stealth is still a "thing"considering Storm Shadow's almost 100% success rate. The Russian SAM's were unable to track them and shoot them down.

      Russia: "Ten missiles were fired and seven were shot down by our air defense forces. Three, however, managed to get through but did little damage."

      Reality: "Three Storm Shadows were fired and all three of them hit their targets."

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: recent events have changed strategies

        Storm Shadow is only somewhat stealthy though. Mostly it avoids radar by flying very low. Thus under the radar horizon of every SAM site less than say 20-odd miles away. However this requires careful planning of each use. You need good intel on where the Russian radars are, with a flightplan to minimise chance of detection and then use of decoy missiles. The US gave Ukraine loads of MALD decoy missiles.

        As I understant it we've been helping the Ukrainians with planning their Storm Shadow strikes. Because the missile requires a lot of target image data in order to be accurate. And a lot of planing to get round Russian air defence. How much of this we've trained them on, and how much we're still doing is unknown. But it wouldn't surprise me if we've got a joint planning cell.

        1. StrangerHereMyself Silver badge

          Re: recent events have changed strategies

          The Russian SAM systems (S-300, S-400) are designed to intercept low-flying cruise missiles so flying low won't necessarily save you. In fact the Ukrainians are using S-300 (originally designed to shoot down the ALCM) systems to intercept Russian Kh-55 and Kh-101 cruise missiles and are pretty effective against them.

          Yes, you can program the location of the Russian SAM sites into the Storm Shadow and it will attempt to find the optimal route around them, but at some point you're bound to show up on their radars. Without Stealth you'd be a sitting duck, since the Storm Shadow is subsonic.

    3. Binraider Silver badge

      Re: recent events have changed strategies

      The YF23 was stealthier than the YF22.

      And faster, according the pilots that flew off the competition with the Boeing.

  3. Christoph

    Will these be able to fly from the UK carriers? If not, what will they use instead?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The Typhoon is essentially an old-style requirement for air superiority - essentially get airborne and to altitude as fast as possible, and shoot down the incoming bombers. The F35 is a general purpose "let's try and make this airframe do everything", which inevitably leads to lots of compromises, and mainly means the aircraft is a strike platform. If you're familiar with your UK aviation history, Typhoon and GCAP = English Electric Lightning, F35 (and especially F35B) = Harrier or Blackburn Buccaneer.

      So GCAP as currently rendered and described will be closer to pure fighter, although given the MoD's track records it likely to have a few air to surface weapons sellotaped on, as the Typhoon has, and won't have S/VTOL capabilities. Without cats and traps our carriers are lumbered with the F35B for the remainder of their lives unless somebody comes up with the suitable maritime strike drone.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        anon,

        I wouldn't call the F35 a strike platform. It's multi-roll and stealth so I'm sure it doesn't dogfight was well as a plane built specifically for air superiority. However it's got a low radar cross-section - so a massive advantage before it gets into dog-fighting range. Of course the end of the dogfight has been called how many times in the last 60 years? So colour me a sceptic. But if the enemy can't get a radar lock on you until 50 miles, and you can get one on him at 100 - you ought to be able to do something with that. Particularly once Lockheed Martin pull their finger out and we get Meteor approved.

        although given the MoD's track records it likely to have a few air to surface weapons sellotaped on, as the Typhoon has

        This is not true. The Tranche 1 Typhoons had an "austere" bombing capability. So they were basically an air-to-air platform. But the idea was always to add more capability later. The Tranche 4 which Germany have just ordered (we're upgrading all our Tranche 3 to this standard) is not only very capable in ground-attack but also has a the new lovely Radar 2 - which can do jamming as well as being a radar. This makes it an excellent SEAD system - (suppression of enemy air defence). The hardest, most dangerous, kind of ground attack.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          The F35 demonstrates every argument why multi-role is a bad idea (as if the majority of MRCAs of years gone by have not proven that time and again). Ludicrously expensive, vast complexity, somewhere around fifteen years late, dreadful combat availability, myriad software issues, can't fly sustained supersonic flight and limits on afterburn duration which could impact any dogfighting, and even before those limits were imposed it was reportedly inferior to the now ancient F15 in dogfighting. So it's too slow to be a true fighter, but it can carry most modern AAMs, a range of ASMs including thousand pound monsters, an assortment of bombs including JDAMs, Paveway and other precision munitions, tactical nukes, anti-ship missiles. If that's not a weapons platform, what is?

          The F35 is world leadingly successful in only one respect, it's marketing to defense buyers.

          1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

            The F35 demonstrates every argument why multi-role is a bad idea (as if the majority of MRCAs of years gone by have not proven that time and again)

            So which of the F15E (F15EX), F16, F18, Typhoon, Rafale, Gripen, Su27 family aren't crap then? They're all multi-role and most of the current best fighters around.

            Now the F22 is still the tops in pure air superiority terms. But then it cost twice what you'd pay for an F35. So maybe multi-role isn't the most expensive either all the time either? It's also even harder to maintain and has even more issues with its stealth-coatings than the F35. Plus its software is even less updateable than F35's is proving to be.

            In a fair dogfight, for training purposes, I wouldn't be surprised if the F15C would beat the F35. Probably not all of the time, but it was built specially for it. But the F35 doesn't have to fight fair. Because it's got stealth. Meanwhile it can also go off to attack the enemy's air defences, something that would be incredibly difficult and horribly dangerous for the F15C. Because it's got stealth.

            However we also have fleets of things like F15 or Typhoon in our air forces to give us a mix of capabilities.

            The F35 also does some very interesting electronic warfare things - although those capabilities are also coming to the F15EX and the Typhoon with the latest radars.

            1. Binraider Silver badge

              In any wargame involving BVR and unrestricted movement, the F35's stealth means that it can fire AMRAAM when the F15 can't. The dogfight never happens because the F35 pilot can engage and disengage with impunity at range. If you force the dogfight by scenario circumstances, the F15's performance edge will be nigh-unbeatable.

              Much the same as what's described above occurred with the well publicised story of American F22s losing to Brit Typhoons in exercise conditions - because both sides know roughly where the opponents are, you can adapt and find ways to beat it. Without that intelligence edge... I'd still rather be the Raptor driver.

              F35 and SU57 is an interesting matchup. Both sides are likely to get into close contact, with the edge on detection capability likely with the F35, and performance almost certainly to the SU57.

              Another interesting match up is the J20. Purportedly underpowered in current config and unmaneuverable. Detection will likely still be the critical decider.

              In real-world conditions where forces don't operate in isolation, F15 plus F35 is a really effective combo. F15 as a missile truck loaded to the teeth with long range ammo while the F35 sneaks in to mark targets via datalink. Nigh-unstoppable.

              The most effective kill is the one where your enemy doesn't see you coming. Ambush tactics worked in WW2 and there is no reason not to favour every advantage you can get in the present day either!

              1. Denarius

                yes F35 hard to detect. UNTIL it opens up to launch missile. Then its a big blinking light in the sky to radar

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              "The F35 also does some very interesting electronic warfare things "

              Fat lot of good that is at 55% operational availability.....

            3. Tubz Silver badge

              F22 is not the best air superiority fighter, Typhoon II beat them in straight on dogfighting at Red Flag. The Typhoon is a smaller and lighter aircraft and can out-climb, out-accelerate and out-manoeuvre the larger F22. The F22 has advantage of altitude and lower detection and would use this with long range missiles and as Vietnam showed with the early missile only Phantoms, no gun you lose to a cheaper and more manoeuvrable fighter. The doctrine of may airforce war planners, believe that in every future conflict the rules of engagement will allow out of visual range aircraft to be targeted and engaged with missiles will be proven to be wrong again. In a crowded airspace visual identification may have to take place before the decision to fire is made, F22 loses it's advantages.

          2. Denarius

            F15 aint so ancient now

            The newer F15 variants are not leading edge but competent aircraft. Not initial strike perhaps. That is also uncertain as the missiles developed for the F35 bomb truck have very long ranges, coupled with advanced long range radar. F15K dont cost an hourly fortune to run. The F35 fiasco meant to replace F14s is over twice the hourly cost to operate from what debatable info I can find. The development of very long range air to air and air to ground weapons is why I think stealth is being reduced in priority. It helps but no longer game changer. It is rumoured no modern aircraft can hide from a WW2 era radar.

      2. EvilDrSmith Silver badge

        "it likely to have a few air to surface weapons sellotaped on, as the Typhoon has"

        >sigh<

        Will people PLEASE stop repeating this rubbish? Typhoon was designed from the start to have full air-to-ground capability; the capability is not 'taped on'.

        One of the UK's requirements was that it replace the Jaguar attack aircraft.

        There are plenty of books (and websites) available that describe Typhoon's gestation that make this quite clear.

        Also, claiming as the article does that work on the Typhoon began in the 1970's is somewhat misleading - the initial design requirements were being considered, perhaps. However, a quick check on the RAF website confirms that the formal specification for the European Fighter Aircraft was issued September 1987.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "One of the UK's requirements was that it replace the Jaguar attack aircraft."

          Itself a botch job when a French advanced jet trainer became too bloody expensive, so they had to justify it other ways.

          "Also, claiming as the article does that work on the Typhoon began in the 1970's is somewhat misleading - the initial design requirements were being considered, perhaps. However, a quick check on the RAF website confirms that the formal specification for the European Fighter Aircraft was issued September 1987."

          Except that the Typhoon owes a HUGE amount of its design and engineering to the EAP. Since that first flew in 1986, when do you think the design work started for it?

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            "Except that the Typhoon owes a HUGE amount of its design and engineering to the EAP. Since that first flew in 1986, when do you think the design work started for it?"

            If you want to go to the extreme, then we can trace it all back to, at least, Leonardo DaVinci :-)

            Building on the shoulders of giants is a correct and proper way for both science and engineering.

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      No / almost certainly not. Or at least I highly doubt it. BAe actually had a proposal to make the Typhoon carrier capable - but obviously that would have meant going for Cats'n'traps. Remember we only started getting F35 a few years ago, and I think we get the last of the first 48 we ordered in two or three years time. The MoD have got the buget to order another 25 - but they're refusing to place orders with Lockheed Martin until the 4th generation software is actually working and our weapons have been integrated onto the fighter. That's Brimstone and Meteor principally - don't know if they'll pay for Storm Shadow when it's due to be replaced by about 2027. So the carriers are going to be operating F35 until the late 2030s at least.

      There is currently work being done to test drones on the carriers. Prince of Wales was in the US trialling flying conditions in bad weather (they were sailing round looking for Atlantic storms to sail into last month) and also flew a fixed wing drone off the carrier and landed it back on. There's a program of testing called Project Ark Royal. The idea is small drones with small catapults to launch them. Then maybe try heavier ones, with bigger catapults that might even require traps for landing. If you go the full size tanker drones the US Navy are trialling - then you might consider one full-sized catapult. Whcih would certainly make the AEW (aerial radar) problem easier to solve. But the idea of this program is apparently to inform the next defence review around 2025-ish - as to whether to upgrade the carriers in the mid to late 2030s to full CATOBAR. Depending on what the aircraft market looks like. Though I'd imagine the F35B will stay in production until the 2040s, it's now being used by Italy, Japan, UK, US Marines and Spain and South Korea are looking at it. And re-doing the carriers means a decent chunk of money needs spending - the US are charging the French $1.32 billion for the catapults and arresting gear for their next carrier! That'll be a set for the carrier plus at least one land-based training set - but we paid £6 billion for 2 whole carriers. And because France can't afford two carriers - one may be in repair when they need it, and not available.

      Our original plan was that we would order 140-odd F35, over the life of the program. I suspect that because it's been so slow into service we'll not buy much more than 100 - and that if GCAP manages to come into service in the mid 2030s then we'll place a larger order for those.

      Possibly GCAP could be re-designed. But carrier capability is unlikely to influence the design because Italy and Japan have much smaller carriers that don't have the option to be converted to CATOBAR. So why would they want to pay and compromise the design for just us? The only possible customer is India, as the US and France won't buy foreign. Carrier capability is one reason France left the Eurofighter program, and one of the fights in the European FCAS one, because they'll want it carrier-capable and Germany and Spain will have to help pay.

      Finally what I've read about the US program is size is important. Bigness for lots of missiles, maybe even some onboard drones and fuel capacity. If that's also true of our program - then it'll be too big for a carrier.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The UK will have to fork out to add cat and traps. The 2 x new carriers were always designed for this eventually. They just made questionable budget decisions to defer it into the future.

  4. @JagPatel3

    Foreign sales are used to justify spending billions on GCAP

    What is notable about public statements made by domestic prime contractors is that there is no bold talk of taking on foreign competitors, beating them on their own turf and teaching them a lesson on how to win. Why?

    Because the inescapable fact of the matter is that dominant players in the UK’s defence industry, the Select Few, haven’t got the guts to go up against all-comers in an international contest which might end up revealing what many informed people know to be the unspoken truth – that they are hopelessly uncompetitive on account of not having had the prior experience of entering open competitions, in the main, because UK governments of all persuasions have pursued a policy of gifting a steady stream of uncontested, single-source defence contracts to these indigenous contractors on a preferential basis, for as long as anyone can remember – under cover of a sham, make-believe competition. This, despite repeatedly claiming that it is government policy to procure military equipment for the Armed Forces through fair and open competition.

    Yet one of the reasons put forward by producer interests to justify spending huge amounts of public money on new military equipment programmes like GCAP is that subsequent foreign sales to international customers will serve to offset the inordinately high outlay on initial design & development work, which is all too common on these type of procurement programmes – as is the recurring problem of persistent delays and cost overruns.

    But how is the domestic defence industry going to export newly-designed equipment if it doesn’t enter competitions run by foreign governments in the first place?

    The answer lies in the lack of ambition on the part of these usual suspects. Whereas they publicly let it be known that they want to export their products worldwide, their undeclared intention, which is central to their extractive business model, is to focus exclusively on exploiting HM Treasury to the fullest extent possible. Repeatedly perpetuating the line that spreading the design & development costs across multiple customers to get better value for money for UK taxpayers is only a ruse to persuade the government to take that all-important, purchasing and investment decision in the first place.

    Which would explain why products developed in this millennium, such as the 54 Watchkeeper unmanned aerial reconnaissance drones which have cost taxpayers £1.12bn, have failed to attract even a single export customer.

    On this basis, it can be said with confidence that GCAP will do no better!

    @JagPatel3

    1. fg_swe Bronze badge

      Yeah "Markets"

      Leading edge fighter planes are a strategic technology for any nation who can build them. If a nation is dependent on another nation to deliver said aircraft, she will lose a serious amount of sovereignty to the supplier.

      Also, leading edge aerospace technologies are critical for the overall technological and scientific development of a nation. Technologies trickle down into other industries such as automotive. For example, ABS brakes and airbags stem from the aerospace sector. AIRBUS is now a highly successful company(50% market share in their sector, worldwide), to a large degree based on technology learned from military jet programs.

      If you believe the U.S. defence behemoths, there is a "market for fighter aircraft" and of course they will always win. Little do they say how the Pentagon funded all their R+D plus a fat profit.

      From a product point of view, Jäger 90/Typhoon is quite successful. It is one of the leading fighter aircraft as compared to the products of Sukhoi, Chengdu Aircraft, Boeing, D'Assault, Saab and Lockheed.

      So if you are not a surrender monkey to the US, you better have your national fighter program. It makes sense to team up with like-minded peer nations to share financing.

      1. HuBo
        Headmaster

        Re: Yeah "Markets"

        And really, the EU should have an approach to this that has better internal coordination, maybe with two or three (internal) competing suppliers (it would help if the UK would re-join the EU, of course). Same thing with HPC, expanding from just Eviden.

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: Yeah "Markets"

          The EU should have better defence cooperation, but sadly it has France and Germany. France sabotage the major defence cooperation projects because they want to be project-lead, have more than their fair share of the work contracts and in the case of any aircarft design it has to be carrier-capable. Those being the reasons they joined, then left, the Eurofighter program. And Tornado (though I don't think they were trying to make that one carrier-capable). In the case of FCAS Dassault were trying to claim that most of the project research would remain their intellectual property only licensed to the other countries - which argument they spent five years solving.

          Germany, on the other hand, won't spend any money. During Eurofighter they tried to cut their order in half while still retaining nearly 40% of the work-share. And they've then refused to spend money on upgrades. So the new radar mk 2 for Typhoon seems to have been delayed quite a while because only the UK would fund the R&D - though Germany have now ordered some, since the invasion of Ukraine - now the work is done. They're also blocking a large export order to Saudi - which will mean the UK production lines will have to close early. Which will create a gap between production of that and the new GCAP - which means we'll either have to spend money to keep the skilled staff twiddling their thumbs or I guess buy a few more Typhoon that we don't want. No bad thing in my book, but still not helpful.

          I can fully understand blocking orders to Saudi. Except, do we want them falling even closer into China's influence - if they have to buy Chinese? It's also making the French rather nervous about FCAS.

          1. fg_swe Bronze badge

            Jäger 90

            Yes, there are challenges. Pointless egotism, incompetence, childish behaviour.

            But that does not mean we should throw the baby out with the bathwater and buy American as a "solution", for the reasons pointed out.

            The panic German panic acquisition of F35 did a lot of damage while doing nothing to deliver the urgent need for a nuclear capable delivery platform. TORNADO should have been polished(spare parts made available in rich numbers) and upgraded, low level flying should be trained in Germany again. Send a message. The threat will not wait until the F35 arrive, rather the crazies(it is many more than just one guy) of Moscow threaten nuclear war on a weekly basis NOW.

            The Ukraine war has created a sense of urgency and I fear there will be much more reason for urgency rather soon. Some people here are either corrupt Moscow assets or they have a calcified brain and cannot adapt to the change of thinking in Moscow and Ankara.

            Weakness will make more war, not less. But tell that to the people mentioned. They will do the right thing when their local train station is blown up by an ALCM.

            This lack of political will has clogged up the German procurement processes. They have essentially bound their own hands behind their back by means of regulations, processes and other papercr4p.

            1. Zolko Silver badge

              Re: Jäger 90

              urgent need for a nuclear capable delivery platform

              what "urgent need " is there for Germany to transport US nuclear bombs ? This is only – another – humiliation of a servant by its master. It has no practical purpose whatsoever.

          2. F. Frederick Skitty Silver badge

            Re: Yeah "Markets"

            To be fair to Germany, the world was looking very different when they scaled back their commitment to the Eurofighter project. Russia was an economic mess and not deemed a threat, so a hugely expensive and ridiculously late super jet wasn't seen as a good use of money.

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Yeah "Markets"

            Or worse, to buy French.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Yeah "Markets"

        "Leading edge fighter planes are a strategic technology for any nation who can build them. If a nation is dependent on another nation to deliver said aircraft, she will lose a serious amount of sovereignty to the supplier."

        Advanced SAM systems are a significantly better investment for defence purposes than the expensive development of a new jet fighter.

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: Yeah "Markets"

          Advanced SAM systems are a significantly better investment for defence purposes than the expensive development of a new jet fighter.

          Depends on what your goal is.

          Take Ukraine as an example. They can defend many of their cities and some front-line units. With a huge SAM fleet. Although they're firing barely sustainable numbers of missiles. And they've denied msot of thei airspace to Russia. But they can't safely use it either. Meanwhile the Russian air force can lob missiles at them to their hearts' content with only a very minor threat. This is the downside of only being able to defend. The enemy just has to be lucky a few times.

          Also defending the front lines is much harder. The closer you push your SAMs the more they're at risk of enemy artillery fire. The further back you push them, the less coverage they give.

          Ukraine discovered this to their cost in the early days of the offensive this year, when Russia's Ka52 were able to hit them with 5km range anti-tank missiles from beyond the range of their air defences. Again much easier to defend your own lines, makes it much harder to go on the offensive.

          Also planes move much more quickly than vehicles. So can affect multiple areas of the battlespace simultaneously.

          1. Binraider Silver badge

            Re: Yeah "Markets"

            Reminiscent of Fleet-in-Being doctrines of pre-WW1 origins. The ability of a fleet to sortie from a port quickly is more of a threat as it being on station.

            SAMs lack the mobility, and so are the "unit on station".

    2. Lurko

      Re: Foreign sales are used to justify spending billions on GCAP

      "Which would explain why products developed in this millennium, such as the 54 Watchkeeper unmanned aerial reconnaissance drones which have cost taxpayers £1.12bn, have failed to attract even a single export customer."

      You state that the UK defence industry can't compete - and then use the Thales (France) and Elbit (Israel) JV for Watchkeeper as an example. Why would anybody buy a Watchkeeper? It's a wildly expensive makeover of an Israeli design that dates back to 1998, and the Watchkeeper has achieved a 14% fleet loss rate so far purely during trials and crew practice, and the high value elements of the work sit with non-UK companies. UK involvement has been limited to paying for them, crashing them, and a limited amount of assembly work. At the end of 2022, the JV employed a mere 88 people.

      The disaster that is the Ajax fighting vehicle is another case in point: A product of General Dynamics (US), and again a warmover of old dinners from the 1992 Steyr ASCOD.

      Meanwhile, BAe's Nimrod MRA4 was cancelled after all the (somewhat misguided) work was done, and then we had to purchase a tiny fleet of Boeing P8s at a cost north of £3bn.

      So all for the benefit of indigenous contractors? Sometimes perhaps, but generally I think not. What is consistent is the wretched incompetence of MoD's development and procurement functions, which result in sub-par products at premium prices, and too often without even the offset of creating something that's British developed and capable of export sales.

    3. StrangerHereMyself Silver badge

      Re: Foreign sales are used to justify spending billions on GCAP

      Depends on who you want to sell them to. If you don't mind selling them to dodgy regimes this might be true.

      However, most NATO members have already opted for the JSF so foreign sales will probably not be forthcoming anytime soon!

  5. Mike 137 Silver badge

    One hopes ...

    " a "virtual copilot" that could take on some tasks ("It looks like you're trying to shoot down a Russian MIG, would you like some help?")"

    As long as it doesn't start getting amorous or refusing to cooperate as in 2001 the movie.

    However, joking apart, the less direct contact the pilot has with the physical act of flying and fighting due to the interposition of "systems", the more reliance will be placed on those systems and the less human situational awareness will result. Ultimately, the pilot becomes redundant and aerial combat will consist of robots shooting down robots. The only actual harm will be the "collateral damage" to what the shot-up parts land on.

  6. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
    Happy

    At least it's getting organised

    Until a few years ago it was very confusing. The European FCAS development split into the Franco-German-Spanish FCAS program and the British-Italian-Swedish FCAS program.

    Meanwhile in the US the Air Force had their NGAD program and the Navy had their separate NGAD program.

    D'oh! So I'm glad to see we now have the, at least vaguely undersandable, alphabet soup of FCAS, GCAP, NGAD and F/A XX. It all sounds like swearing in Klingon...

  7. John_Ericsson

    "Sir, what were trains like when you were a child?"

    "What? Steam trains? Well let me take up half the lesson with my reminiscences and opinions"

  8. StrangerHereMyself Silver badge

    Late

    The UK and other Typhoon users are late to the party. The F-35 prototype flew more than thirty years ago, meaning that when the Tempest (or whatever it will be called) becomes operational more than half a century will have passed. And the F-117 flew more than 40 years ago.

    Also, considering the switch towards unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV's) I ponder whether developing yet another manned airplane is a wise move to make. A swarm of UAV's could be controlled by a Tempest, but that would result in a much lower number of needed aircraft and proportionately higher per unit cost.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Late

      Do the drone pilots have epic mustaches ?

      No ?

      Then sir, I rest my case

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Late

      Tempest is fully fly by wire capable as part of the requirements.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Late

        >Tempest is fully fly by wire capable as part of the requirements.

        Wouldn't wireless be more suitable for an aeroplane ?

  9. elsergiovolador Silver badge

    Amenities

    I am more interested if the jet will have tea making facility and a slot for an umbrella.

    After finishing with the enemy, would be great to make some tea just after landing and if you open the cabin to get some fresh air, the umbrella may come handy!

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Amenities

      This is quite a major failure actually. I've heard US soldiers comment on how nice it is that all British military vehicles have a water boiler. The Navy have tea making facilities all over their ships. And yet the poor RAF pilot has to take a packed lunch and a thermos flask, if he feels the need for some refreshment.

      Of course a pilot's access to toilet facilities is rather more limited than the others. Nonetheless I think it's a national scandal! It's un-British dammit! Shame on the RAF!

      On the Black Buck raid at the start of the Falklands War - one plane had to turn back due to a mechanical fault. The reserve plane was unable to close one of its windows, and thus pressurise the cabin. Fortunately the pilot had brought his sandwiches - so they simply unwrapped them and used the cling-film to seal up the errant window. Good catering is vital!

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Amenities

        I understand that when the treasonous colonials were allowed to fly their aeroplanes onto HMS her maj and HMS our kid, they were amazed that there were bars on board.

        1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
          Pint

          Re: Amenities

          I bet they were even more amazed that the grog ration had been abolished

          <<could tell tales about being press ganged upto Satan's armpit*... if only the official secrets act would let me....

          *AKA Rosyth

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: Amenities

            >I bet they were even more amazed that the grog ration had been abolished

            One hopes that the other two pillars of naval tradition are still going strong

            1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
              Gimp

              Re: Amenities

              Well sodomy is permitted only during shore leave, and the lash is still available but only at certain specialised shore establishments (see your local MP for more details)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Amenities

      The old Nimrods certainly had facilities:

      http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/north_east/6206738.stm

  10. Tubz Silver badge

    Germany is a partner with France on their replacement aircraft but are slowly having second thoughts, with the French demanding a bigger share in manufacturing work and are now eyeing up GCAP as more affordable solution. I hope they do change their mind and the other NATO countries see sense and standardise, yes may have made more sense too to standardise on the same kit the USA was going to use, but that will never happen for political/secret reasons.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      The US may not share, as they wouldn't with F22. Which is actually one of the reasons the Japanese started looking at going it alone or partnering up with someone else I think both Japan and Israel were refused permision to buy F22.

      Or the US may offer to share, but everyone else looks at the price and goes, "nah. You're alright mate." Like the cost of the B21. If the rumours of the NGAD being a massive bomber sized aircraft with 2 or more crew are true.

      I've mixed feelings about Germany joining in. I hope that having a partner like Japan will help curb some of the excesses of our own Treasury in buggering up military procurement. But I don't trust the Germans not to screw things up, and slow things down. On the other hand more units sold means less overall cost for each aircraft. If you can get 1,000 orders, then a development cost of 10 billion is only an additional 10m. So maybe 10% of the cost. Make it only 500 sales and now you're talking 20m and a fifth of the cost. So 100 German orders would be lovely. But then that's an extra member of the committee making everything more awkward. And I think the initial shock of the Ukraine war has worn off in German politics, and they're not even going to manage to spend the emergency €100m on kit - let alone get their defence spending up to the 2% of GDP they've been promising their allies (and lying about) for the last twenty years.

      Also the Saudis want to hand over lots of cash to get something to frighten Iran with. Although Japan are pretty queasy about that decision (understanably) - Germany are already refusing to sell them Typhoon - even though it will bugger up the UK (and German) military aviation industry. And that's a big problem with advanced weapons. They're awfully expensive if you refuse to fund them properly yourselves and refuse to sell them either. However the more people buy it, the cheaper it'll be - and then the more development cash will be available to keep it current. I'm sure one of the reasons Typhoon didn't sell well in Europe, was too few initial orders, meaning it was better to go for cheaper F16s and keep getting regular upgrades.

      1. Binraider Silver badge

        The price/performance difference of Typhoon to F16/F18 means the American 4th Gens were massively more attractive, to say nothing of available in considerable numbers much earlier.

        The Typhoon I am sure is the better aircraft than either, but numbers and presence have a whole quality of their own.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      And seeing the French tantrum about it if they bough Tempest would be the icing on the cake.

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