Project Tempest 6th Generation combat aircraft assessed by former British technical liaison

Tempest Picture BAE Systems

 

Jim Smith had significant technical roles in the development of the UK’s leading military aviation programmes. From ASRAAM and Nimrod, to the JSF and Eurofighter Typhoon. We asked his opinion on what we can learn from looking at Britain’s next potential fighter, Project Tempest.

Hush-Kit has asked me to provide some quick analysis of the BAE Systems Tempest 6th Gen combat aircraft concept announced on 16 July. I’m delighted to have the opportunity to comment, although much that follows will be speculative, and perhaps based on a view of what this concept might become, rather than a detailed analysis of what looks like an early placeholder which will be refined through further study.

Because I am currently travelling (and indeed writing this at 5:30 local in the airline lounge in Dubai) I have had the opportunity also to read Justin Bronk’s comments, which strike me as very sound. What can I add?

Well my first question, which will perhaps come as no surprise, is – what is Tempest intended to do? From a configuration perspective, this looks to me to be deliberately flexible at this point. The graphics show the aircraft firing a Meteor-like missile – no surprise there, given MBDA’s stated involvement, and the excellence of the weapon – and hence suggesting a BVR combat role. From the size of the aircraft, (which is driven by payload-range) this looks to be targeted at the air superiority rather than air defence role.

UAVs 'swarming' on the Tempest Picture BAE Systems

My earlier piece discussing BVR combat aircraft draws a distinction between the air defence role as one performed at or near the boundary between own and threat airspace, and air superiority, which depends on an ability to penetrate and fight in defended threat airspace. This becomes a driver for longer-range, and hence bigger aircraft; signature management and comprehensive EW for survivability; and powerful and sophisticated sensors aiming at a shoot-before-detected capability.

Tempest looks to have aspirations in all these areas, with space provided for internal carriage of weapon, and by implication, stores, sensors and fuel.

What should Tempest be? In my view there is the opportunity here to build a worthy successor to Typhoon and Tornado. This will only be realised if the MoD resist the urge to squeeze every ounce of weight out of the aircraft by attempting to pare cost by reducing the aircraft BME (Basic Mass Empty). Ideally Tempest should be designed to have managed signature, with internal weapons carriage, and sufficient range to conduct penetrating Offensive Counter Air (OCA) ops, while still retaining enough internal volume to carry air to surface stand-off weapons. For the BVR and strike roles, a reasonable level of agility would be required, but thrust-to-weight and energy manoeuvre capability are likely to be less than an air-to-air configured Typhoon.

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Looking at the upgradeable part of the slide, it appears external conformal tanks (above the wing ?) and conformal external sensor or weapons packs are a possibility – this approach could yield a 6th gen F-15 like capability, with the clean aircraft having somewhat more agility compared to the conformal ccarriage configurations providing both range and payload options (like the F-15C compared to the F-15E, but stealthier and probably with a bit less agility), which might even include a dedicated EW capability (like a stealthy F-18G, at least until the EW kit fires up).

On basic aircraft configuration, this looks close to the sort of sweep, aspect ratio and planform I would expect to come out of a design optimisation process for an aircraft with decent mission performance (good payload range), managed signature, and good enough manoeuvre capability (point performance) for a BVR fighter. It does not, however, look particularly like a dog-fighting aircraft, and nor need it be.

What are the points to worry about?

I agree with Jason Bronk that optionally manned is the worst of both worlds. But is there a scope for an unmanned wingman concept, where weight is saved by removing all the man-supporting elements? I’m still not sure this would be an optimal solution, but significant weight could be saved, and coupled with an FCS adapted to exploit the structural strength to the max, i.e. up to the aerodynamic and structural capability of the aircraft, rather than the 9g human limit, might have some advantages.

I cast some dark looks at the intakes, which have no boundary layer diverter, but also no ‘diverterless’ intake bump, such as is used by Lockheed and others. Managing the fuselage boundary layer is essential to get good engine and intake performance, but this  is also a risk area for signatures.

Otherwise, there may be difficulties incorporating the conformal tanks/stores carriers in a stealthy design, and some aspects of the rear end design look a bit untidy at present.

My main message would be to hope BAE and the MoD keep this as a flexible, truly multi-capable aircraft, and not squeeze the life out of it in a mistaken attempt to minimise cost. If they do, any savings will come at the expense of future capability.

Team Tempest infographic CREDIT BAE SYSTEMS

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Project Tempest: Britain’s bold 6th generation fighter announced

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The British Ministry of Defence today unveiled a new £2 billion project, dubbed Tempest, intended to lead to a 6th generation fighter to be ready in the 2030s. Following Brexit, Britain fears isolation from the next European fighter and Tempest is likely an attempt to keep Britain in the game. Hush-Kit spoke to RUSI defence analyst Justin Bronk to find out more. 

“The Tempest mock-up and virtual concept art unveiled at Farnborough , whilst clearly very early stage ideas rather than anything approaching a prototype or tech demonstrator, do tell us a few things about British thinking in terms of a new combat air platform for the late 2030s.

Firstly, the concept still includes canted vertical fins which indicates a preference for retaining some fighter-like agility and stability in extreme flight regimes. This is in marked contrast to various concept artworks released by US OEMs in recent years which have typically eschewed vertical tail surfaces, presumably to aid all aspect signature reduction.

Secondly, the concepts feature a sleeker, longer fuselage than the F-35 and are clearly twin engined. This suggests an emphasis on endurance and unrefuelled range over low costs and simplicity compared to the latter and a desire to carry a larger and presumably modular payload internally. In many ways, it is remarkable the extent to which the Tempest physical and virtual mock ups unveiled mirror the design choices made by Chengdu for China’s J-20A. Large, twin engine with small canted vertical surfaces and strong F-22 Raptor influences showing around the nose and especially canopy/cockpit shaping.

Thirdly, the concept has been described as optionally manned. This suggests a British governmental approach which is not comfortable with risking calling the new combat aircraft manned or unmanned at this stage, but unfamiliar with the reasons for going in either direction. In my personal opinion, optionally manned is a terrible way of designing a new combat air system because it gives you the downsides of both without many upsides. Sure, your new combat air system could be sent in on high-threat missions without risking a pilot, but the extra electronic complexity and programming risk for developing a combat aircraft capable of operating autonomously is still required. Meanwhile, the cockpit, life support, controls and HMI still have to be included with consequent penalties over an unmanned design in weight, space, complexity and RCS reduction potential. Furthermore, aircrew still have to be trained and maintain currency on the new type, meaning one of the key cost efficiencies promised by UCAVs – not having to physically fly for currency, training in peacetime – is significantly eroded. Call me pedantic or pessimistic but for my money, optionally manned should be banned as a term in developmental projects. If you are not willing to take the risk of saying you are developing a UCAV from the outset – forget about unmanned during the development phase and concentrate on keeping costs and complexity down for your new manned fighter!

In terms of the funding announced – the UK is committing £2bn by 2025. That is a decent start and will get the UK’s foot in the door in some sort of new European combat aircraft collaborative effort (and it will of course need to be collaborative especially with France and Sweden in order to make technical and financial sense). What it will not do is fund a new combat aircraft during active testing, prototyping and development up to procurement. That will need much more than £2bn from the UK after 2025 and as such that funding will have to come from somewhere. Assuming no major uplift in defence spending – the only likely place where a new combat aircraft can be funded from within the MoD Equipment Plan in the late 2020s and 2030s is by cutting F-35 numbers from the 138 which the country still doggedly insists it will buy even though few seriously believe that by the time the last aircraft is ordered (2040ish) it would still be the best option. However, the US will react furiously to any announcement that the UK intends to curtail its F-35 buy and so for now the government is having to pretend that in combat air, as in so many areas at the moment, it can have its cake and eat it too!

Re. the wing shape: I would guess that it’s a placeholder without obvious radar return issues pending proper aerodynamic testing of actual test concept mock ups rather than plastic showpieces.”

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My Favourite Spitfire #3 the Mk.XIV

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Instead of the dainty archetypal Merlin Spitfires, I have always preferred the Griffon powered variants and my favourite is probably the Mk XIV. I love the brutish quality it has when compared to earlier marks with that long, long nose topped off with a five-bladed propeller, the most aesthetically pleasing number of blades. I like its relative obscurity: no Battle of Britain, no Douglas Bader. I love that it was available as a FROG kit complete with a V-1 for it to chase. Like nearly all the most successful Spitfire variants, it was an ad-hoc lash-up, a 2035 hp Griffon 65 bolted onto a barely modified Mk VIII airframe with a potentially dangerous swing on take-off replacing the totally innocuous handling of the Merlin Spitfires
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It was an outstanding aircraft. First combat occurred on 7 March 1944, three months before the showoff P-51D, an aircraft offering 600 less horsepower than the Spitfire and unable to best it it in any performance parameter with the sole exception (critically) of range. In RAF comparative trials against a Mustang III, Tempest V, Me 109G and Fw 190, the Mk XIV possessed “the best all-round performance of any present-day fighter”. But the main appeal for me remains aesthetic, I prefer the high-back non-bubble canopy version coupled with the clipped wingtips that seem almost crude in their abruptness. The whole thing exudes a murderous sense of purpose when compared to the early marks, and finally made the Spitfire look like what it is: a weapon.
— Edward Ward

My favourite Spitfire #2: Like a Duck to Weightlifting, the Seafire LIII

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The Spitfire wasn’t a natural carrier aircraft, the undercarriage was weak and narrow, and the fuselage was fragile; the endurance made a permanent combat air patrol impossible if the carrier had to be somewhere other than where the wind was coming from. Fortunately, by the time the Mk III was released to service most of these flaws had been addressed…in the same way credit card debt can be addressed by getting more credit cards.  The extra metal of the tail hook, and reinforced fuselage, put the Centre of Gravity right at the aft limit of acceptability. The fix was a 3-lb mass added to the control column that pulled it forwards under g, preventing the pilot pulling too tight a turn (which could make the wings fall off).  But by putting the Merlin 55M into the LIII, Supermarine also created the fastest naval fighter of the war below 10,000 feet – where the majority of naval interceptions took place (presumably because that’s where most of the ships were).  Around 20mph faster than the Hellcat or Corsair at 6000’, both of which were at least 40mph faster than the Zero, it was also the only one that could out-climb the Zero.  In the final days of the war the Seafire LIII flew low level combat air patrols over the fleet as the last layer of defence against the Kamikaze threat, as well as escorting strike missions leading it to claim the last aerial victory of the war over Tokyo Bay.  The Griffon Seafires may have had more power, which caused its own problems, but none would be as iconic as an LIII in British Pacific Fleet markings screaming over the waves at low level.

Bing Chandler is a former Lynx Observer, current Air Safety Officer and struggling Naval History MA student.  He also has some great offers on his internal organs now Seafire PP972 is up for sale.  

My favourite Spitfire #1 – Paul Beaver

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For some time, I have trying to decide which is my favourite of the 73 variants or sub-variants of that most iconic of fighter aeroplanes, the Spitfire. Now I have the opportunity to put my thoughts on paper and it has been most rewarding.

Like many pilots, the first thought is to the aeroplane of which one has personal experience. That would be the Mk IX with both Merlin 66 and Packard-Merlin 266 engines. But what about the Mk V with floats? As a seaplane pilot, I love the challenge of operating off water in such a powerful machine. Then, my thoughts went to those young men who were the spear tip of the Battle of Britain defence of the country, so the Spitfire Mk IIa. The high flying and super-fast PR Mk XI perhaps whose pilots showed another type of courage to go unarmed deep over enemy territory. There’s event the Seafire FR Mk 47 from the Korean war, surely the ultimate warbird of the whole family.

But in the end, it was the Spitfire Mk XIV which won out. I am not alone in thinking the Griffon-powered, bubble-canopy fighter is a favourite. Captain Eric (Winkle) Brown thought so too. Whenever the Spitfire was mentioned, he would talk about low level trials in the Mk VIII or flying high over France in a Mk IX with the Canadians. I have not had those privileges but I am now sure the Mk XIV is the one and as Eric would say “it was the best fighter of the Second World War”.

Paul Beaver FRAeS

Author of SPITFIRE PEOPLE

The Men & Women who made the Spitfire the Aviation Icon

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Nothing about the B-21 Raider: Hushing the kitty

il_340x270.994120885_2ul5Years ago, when I was caught between a rock and hard place, my friend Eva suggested I start a blog. The site would be somewhere for me to develop my writing and a means to stop my heavily caffeinated brain from over-heating. I had previously worked as an editor for several aviation magazines, so aviation was an obvious subject. Here was a chance to explore all the subjects I had longed to cover in magazines but wasn’t allowed to. Freed from the responsibility of not offending aircraft manufacturers, air forces or ideologies, I could have fun. That blog became this thing. 

45 thousand hours of work later I am delighted at the response I’ve received from the aviation enthusiast community, and their tolerance of my eccentricity! This site has given me the opportunity to meet some incredible people and research some utterly bizarre subjects.  I would very much like to continue this but Hush-Kit requires funds to function. Though you may see the odd advert on this site, they do not benefit me (they’re from wordpress). I’d rather not have a sponsor, though I could be persuaded by the right one, and would rather not have tons of adverts. This is where you come in you great big sexy aeroplane expert: Your Donations keep this going – as a thank you (and because someone told me to) I have added some incentives and goodies to Patreon supporters – some seriously good stuff there. Personally I prefer Paypal supporters (see button above) but there you go – choose the option you prefer. I thank you in advance for those who have the big heart to help this site.

As a bribe: The first ten donations I get this week will receive a free limited edition Hush-Kit 2018 calendar (UK&Europe free P&P)

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https://www.patreon.com/hush_kit

Ten most important fighter aircraft guns

ImageIn August 1910 Jacob Earl Fickel shot a rifle from from an aeroplane. He repeated the feat at an air show in 1911, putting six bullets through a dinner plate while flying 200 feet (61 m) from the ground. This circus-like demonstration led directly to the creation of the gun-armed aeroplane, a type that would become known as the ‘fighter’.

The gun-armed fighter would be a decisive weapon in many 20th Century wars. The gun has been a standard part of fighter armament for over 100 years with few exceptions. Let’s take a look at the ten most important fighter guns. 

10. Vickers machine-gun (1913) ‘The Vickers’ missus’ 

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The world’s first purpose-built warplane, the experimental Vickers E.F.B.1 biplane, was armed with a Vickers machine-gun (though by the time it entered service it been rearmed with the Lewis gun). The  Sopwith Camel, the SPAD XIII and virtually all Allied fighters used at least one synchronised Vickers, due, most of all to its exceptional reliability. The weapon remained in service for a long time; the Gloster Gladiator was the last RAF fighter to be armed with them, though the Fairey Swordfish carried them right up until retirement 1945.

9. Maschinengewehr 08 ‘Spandau ballet’ (1915)

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The answer call to the Vickers above was frequently a barrage of fire from the Imperial German air force’s equivalent: the LMG 08/15 and IMG 08 ‘Spandau’ machine-guns. The weapon of the greatest fighter pilot of all time, the ‘Red Baron‘ and armament to almost every German fighter of the War. More than 23,000 examples of the LMG 08/15 and an unknown number of the lMG 08 were produced during World War I

8. Mauser MG 213 (1944) ‘Reich said Fred’

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The only gun on this list not to have entered service, the Mauser was still extremely important. The Mauser MG 213 was a revolver cannon developed for the Luftwaffe during World War II. It was initially a 20-mm weapon, but there was a 30-mm variant. Following Germany’s defeat this innovative design was closely studied around the world and directly influenced most, if not all, aircraft revolver cannons that have followed, including the British ADEN, French DEFA and American M39 cannon.

7. Nudelman-Rikhter NR-23 (1949) ‘Hitting the Marx’

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The two lower weapons are NR-23s.

The NR-23 was the gun of Cold War Soviet air power. This 23-mm autocannon armed a number of aircraft, notably including the MiG-15 of Korean War fame. It was also fitted to the obscure and under-rated Lavochkin La-15, the MiG-17, some models of the MiG-19, the Ilyushin Il-28 medium bomber and the Beriev Be-6 maritime patrol aircraft. The 1974 Almaz 2 (Salyut 3) Russian space station was experimentally armed with an autocannon for self-defence, the Rikhter R-23which would make it only space weapon on this list.

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The space station’s R-23 cannon installation. 

The NR-23 was scaled up to create the 30-mm calibre NR-30 used by the MiG-19, early MiG-21s, Sukhoi Su-7s and the Sukhoi Su-17, and as the Chinese Type-30 on the Shenyang J-6. An intriguing feature of the NR-30  was the ability to distribute chaff.

(With only ten places in this list there was not room for the Afanasev Makarov AM-23, which was a far fast-firing weapon largely used as a defensive weapon in larger aircraft part from the Tu-16 and Tu-95, Antonov An-8, An-12B, B-8, B-10, Il-54, Il-76, Myasishchev M-4, 3M and M-6 bombers and transporters)

6. MG 131 machine-gun (1940) ‘Goering of thrones’

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At a mere 13-mm the MG 131 appeared to be lagging behind world standards in calibre terms by the time it was committed to action over Europe. However whilst lighter than any rival gun of equivalent calibre (it weighed only slightly more than half as much as an M2 Browning), it possessed an extremely high rate of fire. Being so small it could be crammed into the nose of tiny fighter aircraft, firing from the cowling or through the spinner, resulting in a much more concentrated gun harmonisation than was possible with wing-mounted weapons. It provided tragically capable and many Allies met their death by MG 131s carried by Messerschmitt Bf 109 and Fw 190s.

5. HS.404/Hispano 20-mm cannon (1940) ‘Britain’s French Heavy Metal’914913122892638489In 1939 the French had arguably the best armed air force in the world with the superlative 20-mm Hispano fitted to all their fighters. Sadly those fighters were generally woefully inadequate in all other regards. Meanwhile the British knew they needed a cannon but experiments with the 20-mm Hispano were proving unsuccessful. Designed to be used the right way up and fastened to a weighty engine block, laying the weapon on its side in a Spitfire wing was inspired but took a very long time to get to work. Persistence paid off however and the Hispano formed all or part of the armament of every British fighter aircraft from 1941 through to the advent of the ADEN cannon (which almost made this list). The Hispano was also produced in America, being particularly popular with the US Navy who employed it extensively through the late-war period and throughout Korean conflict.

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4. ShKAS machine-gun (1933) ShKAS for questions’

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The ShKAS was the fastest-firing rifle calibre (in this case 7.62-mm) aircraft armament in general service of World War II. 1,800 round per minute was virtually unheard of, and (the notoriously unreliable Ultra-ShKAS variant) unleashed a veritable firestorm of 3,000 rounds per minute! Extremely light and fast-firing, the ShKAS equipped the majority of Soviet fighters and bombers in World War II. Though not the most reliable weapon, it proved extremely effective. It influenced the ShVAK cannon (which narrowly avoided inclusion itself), and quite possibly the Mauser 213.

3. M61 Vulcan (1959) ‘Rotary club’ 

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Source: JASDF via The Aviationist

When Richard Gatling conceived his fast firing rotary gun in the 19th Century he considered that its awesome destructive effect would limit the size of armies and so reduce casualties, and maybe even end wars. This did not come to be. Though Gatling’s design offered high rates of fire, it was large and required external power, and by the early 20th Century its popularity had waned. Requiring fighter weapons of a higher firing rate Imperial Germany issued a requirement in the First World War for an aircraft-powered (engine or electrical system) multi-barrelled gun, a slew of prototypes followed. None entered full service but a Siemans’ prototype achieved an aerial kill during a combat evaluation.

Following World War II the US wanted a more destructive weapon than the Browning. The new gun should be capable of destroying enemy aircraft in the fleeting opportunities offered by the new era of high speed jet-v-jet combat, and the rotary cannon was the chosen solution. USAF tried 15-,20- and 27-mm rounds for the new weapon before deciding that the second option, 20-mm, was the best. The resultant M61 entered combat in 1965, and during the Vietnam War it was responsible for at least 39 MiG kills. It has also been used to devastating effect by many other nations’ air forces, notably Israel’s (on F-4s, F-16s and F-15s) and Iran’s (on F-4s and F-14s). It has armed almost every US fighter since the F-104 and today arms the F-22. Though superficially similar, Russia’s rotary cannons use a different principle, shunning electric power in favour of gas. Though historically not as significant as others on the list, its ubiquity and longevity have earned it a high ranking. Image

 

2. Berezin UB ‘The Union strikes back’ (1941)

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The 12.7mm Berezin entered service a mere two months before Germany turned on the USSR. Strongly influenced by the Finnish 20-mm cannon, the UB was a fast-firing and effective weapon produced in large numbers. In 1941 6,300 were produced, and in 1943 the annual total jumped to an impressive 43,690. Similar production levels would continue for the rest of the war. The weapon was carried by the vast majority of Soviet wartime aircraft and was thus enormously important.

1. Browning ‘fifty-cal’ ‘Browned off’ (1940)

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The Browning was the fighter gun that won World War II: it armed Spitfires from the Mark V onwards (smaller calibre variants of the Browning were also very important -notably the .303 weapons carried by earlier RAF aircraft), provided the teeth for P-51s escorting bomber raids over Germany and P-47s destroying tanks in Normandy, and it took the fight to the Japanese over the Pacific. Browning armed F-86s were credited with the destruction of 792 MiG-15s over Korea. This is an exaggerated claim but the fifty-cal is responsible for downing more aircraft in the post-war period than any other aircraft-mounted weapon. Despite a basic design approaching one hundred years old, the Browning is going strong as a vehicle-mounted weapon for forces around the world and forms the standard armament of the Super Tucano which is still in production. It was neither radical nor particularly advanced but the fifty-cal is probably the most successful airborne weapon in history. It is certainly the longest serving.

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