on July 16, 2018, Britain’s Defense Minister Gavin Williamson unveiled a model of the country’s proposed new fighter jet named Tempest at the Farnborough Airshow. Britain’s Rolls Royce, the world’s second-largest manufacturer of aircraft engines, has announced that it has begun the development of engines for the country’s Tempest sixth-generation fighter program.
Britain’s BAE Systems announced the development of the Tempest fighter in 2018, which is expected to provide a replacement for the Eurofighter Typhoon and a portion of the F-35B fleet from the early-mid 2030s.
The extremely ambitious program is one of many next-generation fighter programs currently underway, with the American F-X, Air Dominance Fighter, and Penetrating Counter Air Fighter all expected to enter service before it and see their first flights before 2030.
Rolls Royce has previously manufactured engines for a number of British fighters, including the Eurojet EJ200 powering the Eurofighter and the Spey used on F-4K Phantoms.
Rolls Royce has had some experience developing high-performance engines for fifth-generation fighters with the F136 program, pursued jointly with America’s General Electric, although this program was canceled in favor of the Pratt and Whitney F135.
Britain’s ability to develop engines to a sixth-generation standard remains highly questionable, with its Eurojet EJ200 which entered service in 2003 considered several decades behind – and with the U.S. and Soviet Union both having developed similarly capable engines decades prior during the Cold War.
As a sixth-generation fighter, the Tempest will, in many ways, be as big a leap over something like an F-18 Super Hornet as the Super Hornet is over a Second World War prop-driven fighter. Though designed to be fast and agile, the Tempest will also be designed for stealth and will be as much a command and control system and dynamic sensor platform as a fighter. In fact, with its artificial intelligence systems and deep learning, the pilot will act more as an executive officer than a dogfighter.
The problem is that the Tempest will be a very thirsty beast when it comes to electricity, producing unprecedented levels of power demand and thermal loads due to its carrying lasers and other energy weapons, advanced sensors and avionics, and swarming technologies. This means that the old engines that were made mainly to pump out thrust aren’t up to the job.
This is why Rolls-Royce has been spending the last five years working on the next-generation engine for the next-generation fighter. At its core, it features an electrical starter-generator that was fully embedded in the core of a gas turbine engine that began life in 2014 as the Embedded Electrical Starter Generator (E2SG) demonstrator program, and takes a new approach to fighter design that places much more emphasis on providing electrical power in large quantities directly from the engine.
“The electrical embedded starter-generator will save space and provide a large amount of electrical power required by future fighters,” says Conrad Banks, Chief Engineer for Future Programmes at Rolls-Royce. “Existing aircraft engines generate power through a gearbox underneath the engine, which drives a generator. In addition to adding moving parts and complexity, the space required outside the engine for the gearbox and generator makes the airframe larger, which is undesirable in a stealthy platform.”
Britain has sought to gain support for the Tempest program by partially merging it with the Japanese F-3 program, although Tokyo has since come under considerable American pressure to partner with an American firm for its sixth-generation fighter program rather than with BAE Systems.