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UK combat air advances


The Royal Air Force used the Air and Space Power Conference and the Royal International Air Tattoo in July as the springboard for a number of ambitious initiatives under the so-called Combat Air Strategy.

As had been widely expected, UK minister for defence procurement Stuart Andrew announced the signature of a memorandum of understanding on a bilateral co-operation between the UK and Sweden for partnering on the future of combat air. Broadly, this is the initiative to replace the RAF’s Typhoons from 2040, and now, potentially, also the Swedish Gripen.

Saab will work with the UK’s Team Tempest, bringing the kind of expertise that Boeing was able to leverage in order to help it win the US Air Force T-X advanced jet trainer competition last year.

The Chief of the Air Staff ACM Sir Stephen Hillier called it a landmark day for Team Tempest. He added that the UK sees the need to avert the rising cost of combat aircraft, while retaining the mass and technology required in this field.

In related news, the Ministry of Defence said it was seeking to acquire a Boeing 757 to act as a mission systems testbed for Tempest, the future, optionally manned, fighter. It’s unclear how Tempest fits into the overall UK combat air picture, with many doubting the robustness of the current budgetary situation to underpin such an ambitious project. The UK and Sweden will now draw up a report to assess the cost, model and capability of Tempest to be completed by autumn 2020.

The Combat Air Strategy includes much more than Tempest. AVM Simon ‘Rocky’ Rochelle briefed reporters on several initiatives pursued within his Rapid Capabilities Office, including current trials of Leonardo’s BriteCloud smart expendable active decoy. Developed jointly by the MOD and the contractor under the expedited Project ARMA, BriteCloud was integrated onto the now-retired RAF Tornado GR4 in 191 days. BriteCloud is an expendable active decoy (EAD) – a compact, DRFM-based active RF countermeasure that has the capability to defeat the majority of RF-guided surface-to-air and air-to-air threat systems. BriteCloud is designed to be employed from standard chaff/flare dispensers and therefore requires minimal platform integration. Utilising advanced techniques, it is effective against active and semi-active RF seekers, and fire control radars. The system is currently being integrated onto RAF Typhoons.

More details were also forthcoming on LANCA – the Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Aircraft. The project to field a new ‘loyal wingman’ type platform is being run by the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) and three bidders have been selected for the swarming unmanned platform that could work in conjunction with Typhoons and F-35s in high-threat scenarios.

DSTL’s Peter Stockel said that teams from Blue Bear, the Boeing ‘Phantom Works’ and Black Dawn (which includes Bombardier Aerospace’s Belfast unit and Northrop Grumman) are involved in a one-year development phase. At least one of these will be selected to build and fly a demonstrator before 2023.

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