The British Tempest Fighter: An Update

Nader Elhefnawy
2 min readDec 21, 2022

Today Prime Minister Rishi Sunak paid a visit to RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire and officially announced the “Global Combat Air Programme.”

That announcement did not offer any great surprises regarding the countries involved, the capabilities of the aircraft, or the schedule for the aircraft’s development and deployment. It is a tri-national program bringing the British government together with its Italian and Japanese counterparts for the purpose of developing “a next-generation jet enhanced by a network of capabilities such as uncrewed aircraft, advanced sensors, cutting-edge weapons and innovative data systems.” The developmental process is to be underway by 2025, the plane to fly by 2035 and replace the Typhoon when it retires (at some unspecified date).

Still, I do have the following four observations to offer:

#1. Hearing about Italy and Japan as partners at this stage raises the question of that fourth country oft-mentioned in discussion of the project, Sweden. Perhaps the Swedish government is still interested, but for the time being it would appear to not be a full-fledged participant.

#2. The details given confirm the sketchiness of the vision for the aircraft. The statement said that the three countries “will now work intensively to establish the core platform concept and set up the structures needed to deliver this massive defence project, ready to launch the development phase in 2025” (emphasis added). So basically the “core platform concept” does not actually exist yet.

#3. The details also confirm the lowered expectations for sixth-generation fighters compared with what we were hearing circa 2010. As the statement reminded us, where once we were told such aircraft would be “optionally manned” now they are expected to be manned aircraft which merely fly with accompanying drones (the aforementioned “uncrewed aircraft”). And finally,

#4. The Prime Minister’s remark that the “partnership we have announced today with Italy and Japan . . . underlin[es] that the security of the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific regions are indivisible” recalled the British government’s announcement of a “tilt to the Indo-Pacific” as the focus of its military planning (its naval dispositions, etc.) in its 2021 defense review, and seemed to affirm that tilt even in the face of recent events (i.e. the war in Eastern Europe). In so doing it makes an interesting contrast with, if Der Spiegel’s report about the new German “Operational Guidelines for the Armed Forces” is accurate, Germany’s moving in the opposite direction, away from the out-of-area focus which prevailed through the Cold War, and toward an emphasis on large combat forces for in-area operations, and particularly large-scale, conventional conflict to repel attack by another state.

The implications of all this seem to me to warrant some serious consideration from those who comment on these matters.

I wonder if we will actually see any.

Originally published at https://naderelhefnawy.blogspot.com.

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Nader Elhefnawy

Nader Elhefnawy is the author of the thriller The Shadows of Olympus. Besides Medium, you can find him online at his personal blog, Raritania.