Leonardo has contracted 2Excel Aviation to provide a large-body test aircraft as part of the Team Tempest initiative.
Announced by the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) at Royal Air Force (RAF) Fairford in Gloucestershire on 19 July, the contract will see the company provide a modified Boeing 757 testbed aircraft to test systems and sensors destined for the future Tempest fighter, as well as supporting capability enhancements for the current Eurofighter Typhoon and Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning.
Neither Leonardo nor the MoD provided a contract value, but noted that the testbed aircraft will come into service in the early 2020s.
Leonardo is one of four primary industrial partners on the Tempest programme that is being developed by the RAF Rapid Capabilities Office, Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), and Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S); the others being BAE Systems, MBDA UK, and Rolls-Royce.
Due to enter service in the early 2030s, the Tempest is being developed "from the inside out", according to the MoD, with the emphasis on the systems and sensors rather than the airframe that will accommodate them.
BAE Systems has previously noted it will feature a flexible payload; adaptable airframe; long-range sensing; laser direct-energy weapons; advanced materials; intelligent maintenance; dynamically reconfigurable architecture; cyber protection; MUM-T; trusted artificial intelligence reasoning; and a future 'wearable' cockpit. Future powerplants are being explored also, with the RAF recently touting the notion of hypersonic (Mach 5+) technologies and engines being developed for future platforms.
Further to the aircraft itself, the Tempest will operate in concert with 'loyal wingman' unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) being developed under the Lightweight Affordable Novel Combat Aircraft (LANCA) programme, and alongside all other air assets as part of a Future Combat Air System (FCAS).
The Tempest programme is a fundamental pillar of the MoD's Combat Air Strategy (CAS), with a GBP2 billion (USD2.65 billion) initial investment in the project announced at the 2018 Farnborough Air Show.
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