The acceleration of sixth generation fighter aircraft development has been suggested as one means by which the Ministry of Defence (MOD) in the UK can support aviation companies through the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Tempest programme is the United Kingdom’s sixth generation fighter aircraft development programme, and includes BAE Systems, MBDA, Rolls-Royce, and Leonardo. Since the project started in 2018, both Sweden and Italy have agreed to cooperate with the UK on the project, and the MOD estimates that between 2018-2025 approximately £2 billion will be spent to develop the aircraft. Harry Boneham, Associate Analyst at GlobalData, comments, ‘the acceleration of the Tempest programme may be an effective measure for the MOD to support domestic aviation jobs. The budget of £2 billion was set aside from 2015, and the security incentives for the programme persist despite the Covid-19 pandemic.’
Other states have been advancing their own sixth generation fighter aircraft programmes. For example, in April 2020 Japan signalled that it intended to develop its own sixth generation fighter, the “F-3”, indigenously, declining both an invitation to join the Tempest programme and a proposition from Lockheed Martin to combine the F-22 Raptor multirole fighter airframe with the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter electronic suite.
The Covid-19 pandemic has heavily impacted the aerospace market, with companies being forced to enact a number of cost-cutting measures including job cuts. Rolls-Royce announced May 2020 that it would be cutting 9,000 jobs, 17.3% of its global workforce. Whilst these impacts have predominately been felt in the commercial aerospace industry, rather than defence, the exposure of companies such as Rolls-Royce to this market necessitates government support. On the 16th June, it was announced that BAE Systems was resuming its drive to hire 800 apprentices within the UK. These apprentices will work on a number of projects, including the Tempest programme, demonstrating the company’s confidence in the programme progressing and reinforcing its prospects as a means of industry support.