3D Printing ProcessesAerospace AMAviationDefense

Team Tempest to 3D print up to 30% of 6th-gen jet fighter

UK-Italy-Japan collaboration to leverage additive processes at BAE's Factory of the Future to produce lightweight, power-dense configurations

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The UK industry is set to play a key role in the new Global Combat Air Programme, delivering the next phase of the Tempest combat air fighter jet development, the first 6th gen jet fighter, scheduled to be operational by the 2030s. The UK’s sovereign industry partners, under Team Tempest, will support the significant endeavor, in collaboration with Japan and Italy, which will see the three nations build a truly international program, with a shared ambition to develop a next-generation fighter aircraft under a new Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP). Within this context, BAE Systems and its Flexible Factory of the Future, or FFF, will play a major role in achieving the goal of having up to 30% of Tempest parts produced by additive manufacturing.

Team Tempest to leverage AM for up to 30% of 6th gen jet fighter, with composite materials and AM provided by at BAE's Factory of the Future The joint announcement, highlights the close government, military and industrial links between the nations and reinforces the UK’s international commitment to future combat air. The program will build on the substantial progress already made in the UK by BAE Systems, Leonardo UK, MBDA UK, Rolls-Royce and the UK Ministry of Defence who have been working in partnership since 2018 as Team Tempest to research, evaluate and develop a host of next-generation future combat air systems capabilities.

Charles Woodburn, Chief Executive BAE Systems, said: “The launch of the Global Combat Air Programme firmly positions the UK, alongside Japan and Italy, as leaders in the design, development and production of next-generation combat air capability. With our UK industry partners, we look forward to strengthening our ties with Japanese and Italian industries as we work together to deliver this programme of huge importance to our global defence and security. The agreement with Japan and Italy is fundamental to meeting the goals set out in the UK Combat Air Strategy and is set to create and sustain thousands of high-value jobs and benefit hundreds of companies across the UK, contributing to long-term economic prosperity and safeguarding sovereign combat air capability for generations to come.”

Team Tempest to leverage AM for up to 30% of 6th gen jet fighter, with composite materials and AM provided by at BAE's Factory of the Future The UK industry partners have already generated strong working relationships with their counterparts in Italy and Japan, which will progress into the new joint development. These include IHI Corporation, Mitsubishi Electric and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Japan, and Avio Aero, Elettronica and Leonardo in Italy. It is expected that GCAP will generate long-term technological, industrial and social benefits for the three partner countries and inspire the next generation of engineering talent.

Team Tempest tech

The battlespace in which air forces will operate in the future continues to change and evolve. Tempest is envisioned as a next-generation air combat system that is agile, flexible, connected, rapid to update, and affordable, necessary to meet unpredictable threats. Tempest also needs a range of high-density power and propulsion systems

To achieve this, Team Tempest is developing advanced composite materials and additive manufacturing processes that can produce lightweight, power-dense configurations capable of operating at higher temperatures.

The Tema is also developing world-leading electrical generation technology and intelligent integrated power management to power Tempest’s advanced sensors and effects, particularly those which are laser-based. They will need much more electrical power than previous generations of aircraft.

Team Tempest to leverage AM for up to 30% of 6th gen jet fighter, with composite materials and AM provided by at BAE's Factory of the Future

This integrated power approach reduces the number of energy exchanges, maximizing the potential of the gas turbine as the primary power source. The development of these electric technologies is also expected to benefit civil aerospace and other sectors in their drive toward a sustainable future.

Furthermore, Tempest will bring a ‘plug and play’ approach, where software and hardware can be easily changed in and out depending on the capability and functions needed for a mission. That could be different kinds of weapons, sensors, or fuel tanks. This innovation removes the usual rigid structures of assembly and will make manufacturing more cost-effective and flexible than before.

Tempest will provide several modes of operation, combining manned, unmanned and optionally-manned platforms, with onboard and offboard data processing and a range of pilot decision aids when a manned flight is being conducted. This is called scalable autonomy.

Scalable autonomy will be key in the future as operating environments become more complex and threats become more sophisticated and dangerous. Speed, maneuverability and payload will also be key in the future. Our aerodynamicists and engineers are optimizing the aerodynamic performance of the Tempest concepts to achieve what the team calls a ‘balanced survivability design’.

Team Tempest to leverage AM for up to 30% of 6th gen jet fighter, with composite materials and AM provided by at BAE's Factory of the Future

AM courtesy of BAE’ Factory of the Future

BAE Systems’ Factory of the Future facility, in North West England, is already showcasing the advanced manufacturing capabilities to revolutionize how Team Tempest will build, maintain, support and upgrade aircraft of the future.

Technologies, such as augmented reality, additive manufacturing, and collaborative robots will ensure consistent and perfect build quality, whilst significantly reducing build times and costs.

For instance, Team Tempest already tested building an aircraft fuselage with robots that were bought off the shelf from the automotive industry. The team is also working to develop fully deployable versions of maintenance and support technologies that can be easily and quickly deployed to operational bases and forward locations.

Team Tempest to leverage AM for up to 30% of 6th gen jet fighter, with composite materials and AM provided by at BAE's Factory of the Future

At BAE Systems’ intelligent, smart factory revolutionary technologies meet a digitally-minded engineering workforce to create incredible solutions to the problems of tomorrow. Working with experts from the firm’s strategic university research network to specialists in data, robotics, connectivity and 3D printing technology, the BAE manufacturing team designed a fully connected, digital factory.

Like several military and aerospace leaders, BAE Systems have been using 3D printing for decades and additive manufactured parts are being flown on Hawk and Typhoon aircraft today. Recently the company acquired the fourth Stratasys Fortus 900mc system, which is Stratasys’ largest FDM 3D printer and offers packages and materials tailored – and certified – for aerospace part production. Inside the Factory, BAE is now beginning to build large structural components.

“Our Factory of the Future program is all about driving the future of fighter aircraft production with disruptive technologies and we’re working closely with our suppliers and the wider industry to meet the challenges the UK Government has set out to us,” stated Greg Flanagan, Additive Manufacturing Operations Lead, BAE Systems Air. “Stratasys FDM additive manufacturing plays an important role in this initiative, as it helps us meet our overall company objectives to reduce costs and time-to-market.”

BAE Systems has now taken a serious stand in embracing advanced manufacturing technologies and put its UK suppliers on notice of a major shake-up, by saying it expects to make far greater use of innovative manufacturing techniques in its next-generation combat aircraft. The British firm has reportedly set targets for 30 percent of the components of the Tempest fighter jet to be made through 3D printing, and for 50 percent of the aircraft to be put together by robots on the UK defense group’s assembly line.

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