£9m contract for Bristol jet firm to help get new Global Combat Air Programme off the ground

December 16, 2022

Bristol-based military jet developer AERALIS has been awarded a £9m contract by the Ministry of Defence to use its pioneering digital engineering support services on the next generation of fighter jets.

The contract, under the new Global Combat Air Programme, will allow the MoD to access information that AERALIS will generate using its innovative, smart integrated digital enterprise system. 

AERALIS, which opened its Filton HQ in March, has developed the system to enable it to develop a family of light military aircraft in shorter timescales and at reduced cost using a fully integrated digital approach to design, development and certification.

The MoD will also use learning from AERALIS’s approach to reduce cost and risk for a range of other development programmes including UK Combat Air and the Future Combat Air System.

AERALIS said the landmark contract award highlighted the fact that it was the only UK company that has adopted a “clean-sheet approach” to digital engineering to design, manufacture, test and certify a crewed, fixed-wing air system on the military register within the timescales required.

The contract marked an important step in the company’s growth and maturity, it added, signifying that AERALIS’ unique design engineering approach had been recognised as fulfilling an essential requirement for the future of affordable military aircraft design and development in the UK.

AERALIS, which is seeking to develop the first fully British military jet since the 1970s, has seen significant successes over the past year.

Founder and CEO Tristan Crawford had the idea for the business while working on the BAe Hawk jet trainer at defence contractor QinetiQ. He realised that the jet trainer market was not benefitting from the approach taken by Airbus – where he has also worked – of exploiting modular design.

Ministry of Defence Director Future Combat Air Richard Berthon said: “I am delighted that the Future Combat Air System will benefit from the transformational digital engineering services of AERALIS.

“The learning that we will get from AERALIS will support digital engineering across our FCAS enterprise; providing us with the information we need to be able make informed decisions on this programme as it progresses.”

Tristan Crawford added: “We are incredibly proud to be able to announce this agreement.

“This MoD contract is another exciting step towards rejuvenating the UK’s sovereign ability to develop whole aircraft ready for the future.

“We are looking forward to exploiting our digital foundation to boost innovation, create jobs and drive the progress of AERTEAM.

“It proves that AERALIS is truly unique – we are the only company in the UK taking this pioneering digital engineering approach as part of a new economic model that supports the development of more capable and ultimately affordable light military aircraft, marking an important milestone in the development of the first wholly British crewed aircraft since the 1970s.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced the programme, in which the UK will partner with Japan and Italy, last week, saying it would ensure the three countries could “outpace and outmanoeuvre those who seek to do us harm”.

The first flight of the jet, to be called Tempest in the UK, is scheduled for 2035.

It will connect with uncrewed aerial systems and equipped with “advanced sensors, cutting-edge weapons and innovative data systems,” according to the government.

This contract from the MOD to AERALIS follows on from AERALIS’ successful contract with the RAF Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) to support PYRAMID, the RAF’s Open Mission System Architecture (OMS).

Awarded in February 2021 and ongoing, the PYRAMID OMS is planned to form the core of the AERALIS modular avionics and mission system.

Last year it signed a memorandum of understanding with Rolls-Royce on the supply of engines for its pre-production aircraft.

It also secured £10.5m from a Middle Eastern wealth fund to fund its development programme.

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