BAE Systems Plc, the developer of Britain's next fighter jet, said it's considering powering the planned warplane using alternative propulsion such as hybrid or fully electric systems.
BAE, which is working with engine-maker Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc and others, is "examining all options" to power the plane, manufacturing director Dave Holmes said on a webcast Wednesday. The Tempest is due to join the Royal Air Force fleet from 2035.
"I wouldn't rule anything out," he said. "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."
Electric flight is still in its infancy. One of the biggest challenges remains the weight of the batteries required to get anything othe than a very small plane into the air. Rolls-Royce developed a hybrid-electric commercial-aircraft concept called E-Fan X with European planemaker Airbus SE, though the project was suspended this year as the coronavirus pandemic weighed on the sector.
BAE envisions using newer manufacturing techniques such as 3D printing on the Tempest. It said Wednesday it will also work with Williams Advanced Engineering to adapt battery-management and cooling technologies used in Formula E race cars. The company, part of Formula 1 supplier Williams Grand Prix Holdings Plc, aims to deliver energy at lighter weights, according to its technical director, Paul McNamara.
Technology has transformed aerial warfare since the Tempest's predecessor, the Typhoon, first came into service in the early 2000s. While plans are fluid, the UK's Ministry of Defence has said it's looking at designs for unmanned drones that can fly alongside fighters like the Tempest.
Drones have helped to speed electrification, though battery power is usually used on smaller craft requiring stealth. Larger ones typically have conventional turbofan engines.
The E-Fan X demonstrator replaced one of four jet engines with an electric motor and has a high power battery pack to provide energy storage.
Airbus is working on a French-German rival to the British Tempest project with Dassault Aviation SA. The European planemaker has said its next narrow-body commercial aircraft, also targeted for the mid-2030s, will use alternative power.
BAE, which is also working with Italy's Leonardo SpA and missile maker MBDA, said it's not focused on the competition but on meeting its own goals, and continues active discussions with other potential partners.
Sweden's Saab AB signed a memorandum of understanding to join the Tempest project last July.