With the United States of America (USA) announcing the arrival of its F/A-XX- the 6th-generation fighter aircraft under the Next Generation Air Dominance program (NGAD), the leading nations in the world are now competing with each other to come out with their own 6th-generation fighter. The 5th-generation fighter aircraft with stealth technology will soon become obsolete as the 6th-generation fighter aircraft has already arrived, with the USA being the first nation to test it.
Russia, too, has made such an announcement, with President Vladimir Putin having also given particular directives to his scientists to ensure fighter jets with vertical take-off capability. Not one to fall behind, France and Germany have collaborated to develop their 6th-generation fighter aircraft jointly – the Future Combat Air System (FCAS). Great Britain, a part of the US’ single-engine stealth F-35 aircraft, has now decided to fly solo with the Tempest 6th-generation aircraft project.
Understanding the classification of the generation of fighter aircraft is indeed a difficult one. The 1st-generation aircraft was classified on speed; for instance, F-100 is 1st-generation, for the altitude it covers, MiG 25 is 2nd-generation, owing to manoeuvrability- F-16 is 3rd-generation, the Su-30 is 4th-generation for sensor integration, and the F-22 is 5th-generation as it boasts stealth and low observability. The 6th-generation combat aircraft is likely to be the one where it can be integrated with Artificial Intelligence (AI) for higher automation. The other features include deploying and controlling swarm drones and deploying hypersonic or directed energy weapons (DEW).
Europe started with two 6th generation aircraft in 2018, of which the United Kingdom’s Tempest is the prominent one. France, Germany and Spain are jointly developing another 6th generation aircraft – the New Generation Fighter (NGF); it is hoped that the fighter jet will be a reality by 2040.
The 6th-generation fighter jets will have optionally manned stealth jets and will be incorporated with adaptive-cycle turbofans of the fighters. Accordingly, Rolls Royce announced that the fighter jet would be composed of lightweight composite materials and boast superior thermal management. The digital maintenance controls enable it to generate large quantities of electricity through magnets in the turbine cores.
The aircraft with a larger airframe will have a greater range and hold more weapons loads than any 5th-generation aircraft.
The UK & its offer to India in 6th-gen aircraft
To further strengthen defence and security ties with India, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, during his recent visit, has invited India to co-develop the Tempest. A joint statement issued after the bilateral talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and British PM Boris Johnson emphasised cooperation and strategic collaboration in critical areas, including developing fighter jets and jet engine advanced core technology. The offer’s details are not yet known. Or it was just a feeler or an attempt to tie down India so that it does not collaborate with the Russian project in the future.
Britain has already begun its work on The Tempest. Judging by the published concepts and layouts, the Tempest is planned to be a twin-engine stealth fighter of the “flying wing” scheme with a vertical tail. The UK government has allocated 2 billion pounds to implement the program. Tempest fighter should make its first flight around 2040, replacing the Eurofighter Typhoon in the Royal Air Force. The program is at an early stage, and the initial combat readiness should be achieved by 2035. It has already collaborated with Sweden and Italy for the development of Technology, and it also has Japan on board for propulsion and sensor systems. Companies including the BAE Systems, MBDA (France), Rolls-Royce, Leonardo (Italy), and SAAB of Sweden are already involved in the technology development aspect of this programme.
In 2019, a delegation from the UK with top executives of BAE Systems and senior officials from the Ministry of Defense came to New Delhi to invite the Indian Air Force (IAF) to co-develop 6th-gen aircraft called ‘Tempest’. BAE Systems India head Nik Khanna had said that the team was looking for international partners. The team was keen on identifying software engineers in India as India has considerable capability in that area.
The message of Great Britain is clear that it wants India on board the jet programme. According to sources, there is a possibility for India to get involved in the development of the software of the Tempest. However, there is no clarity in this regard as India is keener on Make in India and totally focused on building a solid ecosystem in defence and aerospace.