Will India and the UK Co-Develop a Sixth-Generation Fighter Aircraft?


The UK is set to invite India to collaborate on a sixth-generation fighter aircraft, according to Indian media reports.

The United Kingdom is slated to invite India this month to jointly develop a sixth-generation fighter jet under the Tempest Future Fighter Aircraft project, according to Indian media reports. British Ministry of Defense (MoD) officials and executives from BAE Systems are expected to brief Indian MoD and Indian Air Force officials on the project during the Aero India 2019 exhibition, which will kick off in Bengaluru in the southern Indian state of Karnataka on February 18.

“We are looking for international partners to access the best assured capability [for developing the Tempest],” Nik Khanna, the head of BAE Systems India, was quoted as saying by the Business Standard. As to India’s specific role in the Tempest project, Khanna said: “A big cost driver for a futuristic aerospace system is going to be the requirement for more and more software engineers. India has a huge capability in that area.”

The Tempest Future Fighter Aircraft project aims to design and deploy a sixth-generation stealth fighter for the British Royal Air Force (RAF) by 2035. The project is headed by BAE Systems. Project partners to date include Italian defense contractor Leonardo for the aircraft’s integrated sensors and electronic warfare capabilities, the European consortium MBDA for the aircraft’s weapons systems, and the U.K.’s Rolls-Royce for the aircraft’s engine.

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“Early decisions around how to acquire the capability will be confirmed by the end of 2020, before final investment decisions are made by 2025. The aim is then for a next generation platform to have operational capability by 2035,” the British MoD said in an official press release in July 2018. The project was revealed that same month as part of the ministry’s new Combat Air Strategy.

The sixth-generation fighter will be “optionally manned,” feature artificial intelligence and machine learning, and will be capable of serving as a drone “swarming” platform via a new so-called “cooperative engagement capability,” also currently used aboard Aegis-equipped guided missile destroyers. The aircraft is also expected to be armed with direct energy weapons and hypersonic weapons, next to others.

Notably, the U.K. has reportedly also approached Japan to explore options to collaborate on the Tempest project. As I reported previously, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera stated in July 2018 that the Japan and the U.K. had “an exchange of opinions” on the Tempest Future Fighter Aircraft project revealing that London is “looking for international joint development partners.”

“Japan and the U.K. are already cooperating on other aspects of military aviation,” I explained in August 2018. “Both countries, in cooperation with other European partners, are co-developing a new air-to-air missile. The prototype of this Joint New Air-to-Air Missile (JNAAM) is expected to be built by the end of 2018.”



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