In 2018 the UK launched the Tempest program with a hefty price tag of around £2 billion. The objective of the program was that the aircraft would be ‘optionally manned’; in other words, they would be able to be flown as drones.
The Tempest is intended to come with a shopping list of sixth-generation technology. These include being optionally manned, using hypersonic or directed energy (laser) weapons, and the ability to launch and control swarms of drones.
More down to earth is the fact that BAE System will be leading the development alongside the Royal Air Force, and Rolls Royce will supply the engines. MBDA will integrate the weapons systems, and the Italian firm, Leonardo, will contribute the avionics and sensor arrays. These will be the significant role players, but literally hundreds of small, niche technological experts and universities will be used to fulfil the demanding list of requirements for this new fighter.
The Tempest, which is hoped to be in service by 2035, will have a broader and longer fuselage than the F-35. This larger fuselage will provide the additional space required for weapons and provide space for the array of electronics and cooling necessary for the next-generation weapons.
It is anticipated that the radar technology installed in the Tempest will be so sophisticated that it will process data at a fantastic rate. The developers claim that every second, it will process data equivalent to nine hours of HD video.
The latest gismo to be revealed on the Tempest is that should the human pilot become a little frazzled by trying to manage the vast number of options and data streams being pumped into his sight; he will be able to rely on the help of a ‘virtual assistant’ or electronic co-pilot to help him through.
This technology is taking baby-steps right now as BAE trials what it calls ‘psycho-physiological’ technology in current Typhoon aircraft. This technology attempts to track the eyes of test pilots, as well as collect information on other physical behaviours in an attempt to understand the levels of stress and exertion experienced by the pilots.
The plane will have the capability of deciding if the pilot is becoming over-stressed by analyzing the data from his heart-rate monitor, smartwatch, and other wearable technology. If the computer determines the pilot requires assistance, then it can step in to help, but what that help will be is not specified.
A spokesperson for BAE, Suzy Broadbent, said that there is the potential for the pilot to become overloaded with all the information streams at his disposal.
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She went on to say that the electronic co-pilot would either take the form of an avatar that will appear on his screen or a feed similar to Twitter. Those are off-the-shelf technologies that are currently available and can easily be integrated into the systems of the Tempest. In this way, the virtual reality systems of the Tempest could be built from existing technology.