Defence Secretary Ben Wallace who is also MP for Wyre and Preston North, visited the company’s Warton site today (Thursday) which employs around 600 people on the Tempest project.
He saw cutting edge technology being used to build the UK’s Future Combat Air System (FCAS) – the next generation of fighter jet which is due to be in the air by 2030 and will eventually replace the Typhoon jet.
The £250m government contract officially marks the start of the programme’s concept and assessment phase.
Mr Wallace said: “Today marks a momentous step in the next phase of our Future Combat Air System, with a multi-million pound investment that draws on the knowledge and skills of our UK industry experts.
“Boosting our already world-leading air industry, the contract will sustain thousands of jobs across the UK and will ensure that the UK remains at the top table when it comes to combat air.”
He added: “Lancashire is not just a place where people make things, it’s a place where they are world leaders in making things.
“That pedigree goes far and wide around the world.”
During his visit, Mr Wallace chatted to workers including apprentices who are being trained in skills including robotics and 3D printing in what has been branded ‘The Factory of the Future’.
The minister said: “The young people I met today, if they play their cards right, can be working on this for 25 years.
“BAE has been brilliant at feeding further education and higher education.
“When I go to Blackpool Sixth Form College, which is in my constituency, I see a lot of boys and girls in science classes and part of that is the pedigree of their families who have worked here.”
Chris Boardman, group managing director of BAE Systems’ Air Sector, added: “The funding announced today marks a critical next step for the programme and, with our partners, we will work together to define the technical and capability requirements and develop the concept which will bring Tempest to life.
“Tempest offers an exciting opportunity for the next generation of talent to develop rewarding careers, contributing to important work in support of the defence of our nation.”
Andrew Titterington, 23, from Preston, who will finish his three year apprenticeship at the end of the year, has just spent six months learning 3D printer skills.
He said: “These are the skills needed by my generation so to be at the forefront of that technology, and to be working on a project like Tempest is a great opportunity.”
Jenny Manning, 32, from Morecambe, joined BAE as an apprentice aged 18 and is now an engineer for new technology streams.
She said: “For people like Andrew at the start of their career, seeing this next generation of manufacturing techniques is fantastic.
“We are seeing the next level of skills and talent coming through and we will be part of the next generation fighter jet.”
The Tempest project means pilots of the future will be wired up to the systems integral to the craft they are flying including drones and other military hardware on the ground.
Engineers are developing sophisticated sensors which will measure the pilot’s brain activity while they are in the cockpit, eye tracking glasses and heart monitors integrated into flying suits.
Steve Formoso, chief test pilot at BAE, said: “Tempest and the systems mean there are huge amounts of information moving between the different parts of the system – aircraft, drones and other vehicles.
“All that information is there to give you a strategic advantage, and for a pilot it’s important to have situation awareness in the battle space.”
Prototypes also include a helmet offering a wide field of view and where virtual reality can be overlaid onto a real outdoor scene.
Steve added: “I would love to fly whatever this becomes. The amount of capability and technology is going to be huge and it is really exciting to imagine a vehicle like this.”
The programme is being delivered by Team Tempest – combining the expertise of the UK MOD, BAE Systems, Leonardo UK, MBDA UK and Rolls-Royce.
Currently more than 2,000 people are employed on the project across all the partners including 800 at BAE, with around 600 of those at Warton.
The programme is expected to make an estimated £26.2bn contribution to the UK economy and support an average of 21,000 jobs a year.
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