Foreign Policy Blogs

The Tempest that May Unravel the F-35 Cooperative

Animated image of the future Tempest fighter plane.

The United Kingdom recently announced that they were working on producing their own stealth fighter project. Named the Tempest, it would become the front line of the Royal Air Force and would commit billions into the UK’s aviation industry. While the F-35 project had multiple innovational links to the British Aerospace industry and would have produced a fair number of skilled jobs in the UK itself, the international fighter project for the F-35 may be on shaky ground. Competition that would remove signatory nations from the F-35 project would make the fighter more expensive to produce, despite there being production and employment guarantees for most contributory members to the project. While the Tempest was announced to be flying with the RAF by 2035, it still might be the case that F-35 “NATO” fighter will still become part of the British air arm alongside the Tempest.

The initial vision of the F-35 was seen as a stealth support and strike aircraft that would do the heavy lifting and be able to evade enemy radar and anti-air systems. It was envisioned that the more expensive and elite F-22 fighters would enter enemy airspace in order to destroy their air defenses and the F-35s would come in as a second strike support aircraft to eliminate further threats. Older 4th generation fighters would then follow through with prolonged strikes once the air defenses are non-operational. The Tempest may serve alongside the F-35s as the F-22s would if the UK keeps its links to the F-35 program, but the relationship and whether or not the UK will stay with the F-35s remains to be seen. Some countries like Canada who may exit the F-35 program have chosen to purchase 1990s era F-18A and F-18B types from Australia. Committing to old aircraft, especially those that a country already possesses and needs to be replaced can be dangerous to the aircrew. With material fatigue as well as no effective protection against modern anti-air system, committing to older types sends the message that there will be a lack of participation in future NATO missions, difficult at a time when spending on NATO commitments are due to rise in the next few years. The Tempest does the opposite, showing a commitment to lead missions that require increased radar protection in order to complete its missions.

New 6th generation fighters have one main goal in mind, and that is to defeat ever developing radar and missile systems that are likely to produce hard to defeat defense shields in the future. Modern systems like the S-400 and ever developing BUK-M3 will be widely distributed to any country that wishes to purchase them over the next few years. With more advanced systems already in production in Russia and China, it will be interesting to see how a fighter design set to make its expensive debut in 2035 stands up to modern missile systems by then. With Anti-air systems now being able to target missiles themselves, targeting a larger plane or drones may not be a definitive challenge by 2035, or even by 2020. Whether it be F-35s, Tempests or more F-22s, the focus on pilot safely and security should be paramount in the minds of policy makers and those choosing to place their pilots in active danger zones.

 

Author

Richard Basas
Richard Basas

Richard Basas, a Canadian Masters Level Law student educated in Spain, England, and Canada (U of London MA 2003 LL.M., 2007), has worked researching for CSIS and as a Reporter for the Latin America Advisor. He went on to study his MA in Latin American Political Economy in London with the University of London and LSE. Subsequently, Rich followed his career into Law focusing mostly on International Commerce and EU-Americas issues. He has worked for many commercial and legal organisations as well as within the Refugee Protection Community in Toronto, Canada, representing detained non-status indivduals residing in Canada. Rich will go on to study his PhD in International Law.

Areas of Focus:
Law; Economics and Commerce; Americas; Europe; Refugees; Immigration

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