BAE Systems, the defence company behind the British air force’s new fighter jet, has teased the prospect of electric-battery systems playing a substantial role in powering the RAF’s next-generation Tempest warplane, due to enter service in the 2030s.
The company says it is “examining all options” for the plane’s propulsion system as part of the Tempest’s development period and is working closely with engine developer Rolls-Royce.
BAE’s manufacturing director, Dave Holmes, told a webcast on Wednesday (15 July) that he “wouldn’t rule anything out. If you’re looking at something that’s going to be in service out to 2050 to 2060 and beyond, all of those options are very feasible.”
The Tempest, first announced back in 2018, will be the UK’s first new jet-fighter in decades. Early specs say it will be equipped with artificial intelligence, a virtual cockpit setup and laser weapons, which are likely to have substantial power demands.
Rolls-Royce already confirmed in January that it had successfully developed a “world-first electrical technology” for the Tempest programme, which aims to address the “unprecedented levels of electrical power demand” expected on future aircraft.
Although all-electric engines are still in their infancy, Rolls-Royce has a strong track record, having collaborated with Airbus on a hybrid propulsion system that was due to undergo test flights next year.
That project was shuttered earlier this year due to the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak but the engine builder is pressing ahead with ground trials and has pledged to use the know-how already generated in other projects.