Japan joins UK-led effort to develop 'game-changing' Tempest fighter jet

Next-generation aircraft will use AI to take part in combat missions without a pilot

A rendering of the Tempest fighter jet, which will is expected to be in operation by 2035. Photo: UK Ministry of Defence
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Britain will team up with Japan and Italy to build a “game-changing” fighter jet that will harness artificial intelligence for future combat, it was announced on Friday.

The aircraft, named Tempest by the Royal Air Force, will be the most sophisticated jet in operation when it takes to the skies in 2035.

It will not have any dials in the cockpit and an in-built AI brain will allow it to remain in combat if the pilot loses consciousness.

The futuristic picture painted by its main designers at BAE Systems received a major boost when British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak unveiled the new Global Combat Air Programme.

The fighter will be at the “cutting-edge of advancements in defence technology”, he said.

It will allow Britain and its allies to “outpace and outmanoeuvre those who seek to do us harm”.

Not only will its advanced stealth technology make it almost invisible to radar, but its massive computer brain will allow it to use drone swarm technology and deep-learning while using a battery of arms, including lasers and hypersonic missiles.

The dials will be visible to a pilot using a head-mounted display. BAE Systems said the Tempest would have “gesture control and eye-tracking [to] measure the pilot’s workload and identify fatigue and mental stress”, as well as a “cockpit without a single physical dial or screen”.

But it is the use of AI technology that offers the most provoking advances.

Monitors inside the pilot’s helmet will monitor brain signals and health, gathering a database that will increase with flying time.

This will allow the AI to take over the controls if the pilot passes out and can provide vital assistance if the aircraft comes under attack.

While military aircraft projects are notorious for delays and rocketing costs, if the project proves to be a success it is likely to attract attention and orders from allies, particularly in Europe and the Gulf.

There is also a possibility that the US could show an interest in the fighter.

“The US does not have a next-generation fighter project as yet,” said military analyst Tim Ripley.

“The only funded US fighter programme is the F-35 Lightning, as nothing else is on the books. There are lots of studies but no funding to build prototypes or new production aircraft.”

Before the aircraft reaches its development phase, the UK, Italy and Japan will thrash out the cost-sharing arrangements based on national budgets for a project that will demand billions.

The announcement enhances Britain’s focus on the Pacific region in its industrial alliance with Japan.

“The international partnership we have announced today underlines that the security of the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific regions are indivisible,” Mr Sunak said.

It comes after France, Germany and Spain reached a deal last month to start the next phase of creating a fighter jet in Europe's largest defence project, which has an estimated cost of more than €100 billion ($103.4 billion).

Updated: December 09, 2022, 4:00 AM