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DSEI 2019: Tempest inks Italian pact hailed as ‘natural’ partnership

11th September 2019 - 14:00 GMT | by Tim Martin in London

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The UK and Italian governments have formally agreed to partner on the future fighter Tempest programme, by way of a statement of intent pact signed by the two parties – a collaboration that follows Sweden joining the project in July 2019.

A statement of intent has also been agreed at an industrial level between Rome and London, further evidence that engineering and design efforts will involve a formidable and diverse mix of suppliers including BAE, Leonardo, Rolls-Royce and MBDA.

The ‘natural partnership’ followed comprehensive feasibility studies undertaken by all sides involved, with the Anglo-Italian alliance expected to deliver a ‘competitive, connected and capable future combat air system’ according to Charles Woodburn, CEO at BAE Systems.

He added the 'natural partnership' consolidates existing links between the UK on Eurofighter and F-35. 

‘We have been conscious of the fact that joining a programme early allows you to participate more deeply in discussions about requirements,’ Alessandro Profumo, CEO at Leonardo said.

From both a political and strategic perspective the Italian decision delivers a significant blow to aspirations of the rival Franco-German Future Combat Air System (FCAS) programme to add new partners – though Profumo told Shephard he had no comment to make on whether the company had been provided with details of FCAS plans.

Leonardo has invested a portion of its research and design funds to Tempest he confirmed, though would not be drawn on the exact value of such an investment, so too remaining candid on whether more national partners will be announced in the future. On that matter, he explained only that there is room for the programme ‘to be enlarged’.

The UK considers Japan to be a leading candidate for a future partnership, though it remains unclear if negotiations on that front have reached an advanced level.

For the meantime a number of existing milestones are scheduled for Tempest, with the UK Ministry of Defence to outline an initial business case for the programme in 2020, full business case in 2025 and IOC set for 2035.

Capabilities are not fully determined at this stage, but a future air domain environment that complicates finding and tracking targets through adversaries using GPS denial and sophisticated EW techniques are issues which the RAF have publicly stated it wants to counter, and will prioritise as Tempest evolves.

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