The UK’s Tempest programme which aims to have a next generation fighter and supporting assets in service from 2035 could see spiralling costs if it takes a narrow system of systems approach.
A system of systems approach where there is a high level of interaction between all the component parts could see the original cost multiple itself many times, according to fighter programmes expert, Michael Pryce. Tempest has already been estimated to cost £20bn (Combat Aircraft Journal, pp26-31, September 2020). He also advised against one nation controlling the project, which was the approach for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lighting II, and warned that repeating Cold War style programmes or workshare-based collaboration, which was Eurofighter, was also not a solution.
“When people talk about system of systems, its squaring the cost as your building in complexity,” Pryce said during his Royal Aeronautical Society webinar, The Supply of Future Combat Aircraft, on July 29. Instead, a “federation of systems,” approach should be taken, he explained, where the component parts interact but are not interdependent by design.
Pryce has studied past fighter programmes and concluded that often the aircraft never actually do what they were intended to do. While Pryce praised the Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon, he pointed out that it has become a bomb truck for the US Air Force; and not the agile light dogfighter it was conceived to be. Another example he gave was the Eurofighter, which was designed to fire a missile while flying supersonically, which it has never done. The Hawker Hunter was praised as a general fighter and in Pryce’s view that is what is needed.
Smart design and designing an aircraft for low maintenance levels is also crucial in his view. Pryce explained how money that would be saved from reduced sustainment costs, maintenance, could be ploughed into earlier development work. Pryce is a senior air systems analyst of Future Projects Research at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory. He has also acted as a UK Ministry of Defence independent scientific and technical advice register member for the combat air strategy; from which Tempest is derived.