However, fighter pilots in the 2030s will have an even closer relationship with their fighter jet.
It has the ability to read their minds.
The Tempest jet is being developed by BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, the European missile group, MBDA, and Leonardo of Italy.
An artificial intelligence (AI) tool will be one feature that will assist the human pilot when they are overwhelmed or under extreme stress.
Sensors in the pilot’s helmet will monitor brain signals and other medical data. As a result, the AI will amass a massive biometric and psychometric information database over the course of several flights.
Because the on-board AI has a library of the pilot’s unique characteristics, it will be able to step in and assist if the sensors indicate they require assistance.
For example, the AI could take over if the pilot loses consciousness due to high gravity forces.
BAE Systems announced at the Farnborough Air Show that by 2027, it will be flying a demonstrator jet from its Warton plant in Lancashire, testing some of these technologies.
This aircraft will serve as a testing ground for a variety of digital capabilities, as one of 60 different demonstration projects, some of which will be entirely software-based.
Since the first images of the Tempest aircraft were released in 2018, its appearance has matured. Its weight has been reduced, and its outline has been slimmed down, among other things.
When it finally takes to the skies, the Tempest will almost certainly be flanked by unmanned combat drones known as ‘adjuncts’ by the Tempest consortium.
Such advancements will necessitate the development of entirely new monitoring and control systems.
“We have to deal with the rate of change in technology,” says Tempest’s business development director, John Stocker.
“Historically, defense spending drove advancements, with commercial technology catching up later. Commercial technology is frequently more advanced now.”
Mr. Stocker envisions the new fighter being built with systems that can be upgraded as easily as downloading an app onto a smartphone.
Meanwhile, much of the jet’s production will be automated. Robots on the assembly line will share data with suppliers so that parts can be shipped quickly.
BAE Systems and Leonardo will also collaborate with Mitsubishi of Japan on the project; Mitsubishi’s F-X future fighter project shares many similarities with Tempest.
This is a new experience for European aerospace companies, but greater collaboration with Japan is now possible due to projects existing in the digital realm.
“In a digital environment, these tasks can be completed much more quickly, and collaboration is much easier. We aren’t transporting briefcases between Tokyo and Warton “Mr. Stocker cracks jokes.
The alliance with Mitsubishi’s F-X fighter team is maintained by a team of interpreters and staff who can communicate fluently in both English and Japanese on highly technical matters.
Mitsubishi is also working with Leonardo’s radar division in Edinburgh.
The popular image of radar as a rotating dish that scans ahead and bounces signals off approaching objects has given way to digital analysis of sensor data.
However, the sensors detect far too much detail for a human brain to evaluate, which is why AI has become critical in analyzing and processing the flood of data.
It is hoped that AI will act as a kind of gatekeeper in the Tempest, preventing the pilot from becoming overwhelmed by incoming intelligence.
The entire project is being developed in tandem with the weapons manufacturer MBDA. Missiles can be launched from a Tempest but then diverted to a more urgent target by one of its robot adjuncts.
All of this action will be powered by brand-new engines. Rolls-Royce must power the Tempest’s entire complex, digital system, not just its flight. On-board data crunching could cause the plane to overheat like an overloaded laptop.
Rolls-Royce engineers are devising a method to extract that heat while generating enough energy to power Tempest’s army of digital gadgets.
“We want to power every aspect of the system,” says Rolls-Royce future programmes director John Wardell.
The UK government has already committed £2 billion to the Tempest project, which will grow significantly before the jet enters service. However, one obvious question remains. Why not simply produce more Typhoon fighters?
According to BAE Systems, the UK and its allies will face new threats and more sophisticated weapons by 2040. As a result, appropriate technology is required. Tempest will fight for the rest of the digital century.
The Typhoon’s export success explains much of the UK government’s enthusiasm for Tempest. According to the company, the Typhoon has contributed £21 billion to the UK economy while supporting over 20,000 jobs, following a £12 billion state investment.
Both the fighter consortium and the UK government will undoubtedly want to reap similar benefits from the next generation of fighter jets.