Team Tempest reveal key concepts of future combat aircraft

The industrial consortium developing the RAF’s next generation combat air system has revealed concepts expected to give Tempest its winning edge.

Team Tempest
Virtual cockpit concept (Image: BAE Systems)

These include a so-called ‘wearable cockpit with aircraft controls projected via Virtual and Augmented Reality. The concept from BAE Systems sees the physical controls seen in current cockpits replaced with Augmented and Virtual Reality displays projected inside the visor of a helmet, which can be configured to suit any mission. Concepts including human-autonomy teaming are also being developed, where a ‘virtual co-pilot’ could take on some of the pilot’s responsibilities. Still in development, the virtual co-pilot could potentially take the form of an ‘avatar’ built into the cockpit to interact with the pilot.

The Tempest combat aircraft: there’s a storm coming

Suzy Broadbent, Human Factors Manager – BAE Systems Air explained that the work being undertaken on wearable cockpit technology represents the coming together of an entire ecosystem in its own right.

“Sat behind the cockpit human-machine interface is a host of support technologies which are increasingly focussed on the role of autonomy and Artificial Intelligence – teaming humans with machines to make the pilot or operator’s job easier and helping them make critical split second decisions,” she said.

Broadbent added that this includes the development of virtual assistants, which, along with some of those other technologies, can start to determine when the pilot/operator becomes overloaded and when the aircraft can take some of that workload to allow the human to concentrate core tasks.

“Some of our work within that is focussed on how that virtual assistant will work – is it an avatar in the cockpit with the pilot? Is it a social-media type feed which presents relevant information? How do you make the communication between operator and virtual assistant as smooth as current communications between pilot and navigator for example? How do you build that trust?”

Broadbent continued that concept being developed is for a multi-modal cockpit providing a number of different ways the aircrew can interact with the system, be it voice, gesture, eye tracking, digital controls or via traditional HOTAS (Hands-On Throttle And Stick) controls.

“The aircrew can select from the new technologies we are providing as to their preferred way of carrying out the task,” she said. “This customisability is a key component of the future cockpit.”

These technologies and many others are being delivered by Team Tempest, a technology and defence partnership whose core members are formed of BAE Systems, Leonardo, MBDA, Rolls-Royce and the RAF, plus numerous SMEs, academia, and high-tech companies in the UK.

For their part, MBDA UK has embedded one of its Human Factors engineers within the wearable cockpit team, ensuring early introduction of weapons concepts that exploit these future technologies. Similarly, Rolls-Royce engineers have been developing advanced combustion system technology as part of the company’s power and propulsion work. Radar technology being developed by Leonardo will deliver 10,000 more times data than existing systems when Tempest enters service, allowing the aircraft to locate and target enemies well before it itself is targeted.

Tempest will replace the Typhoon when it enters service in the mid-2030s and forms part of a wider combat air system that will utilise new technologies as they evolve to respond to increasingly high-tech and complex threats.