The UK government has awarded a £115m contract to Leonardo to create a ‘flying electronics laboratory’ to develop future combat air technology.

The contract, which was announced at Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT), will launch the next stage of the Excalibur Flight Test Aircraft (FTA) project. This will see a Boeing 757 completely overhauled and turned into a flight test aircraft that will resemble a ‘flying electronics laboratory’. The aircraft will test some of the innovative technology that could be deployed on the fighter jet being developed by the Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP). Leonardo will deliver the contract in partnership with 2Excel.

Broader capabilities

The Excalibur project is a key element of the UK’s Future Combat Air System (FCAS) that could include the crewed fighter and a broader range of capabilities such as uncrewed aircraft, information systems and weapon systems.

The Excalibur aircraft will be adapted to host integrated sensors, digital technology and integrated communications. This aircraft is expected to fly with the new technology within the next three years, when on-board scientists and engineers will test the sensors and communications systems whilst in flight.

The aircraft is designed in Yorkshire and built in Hampshire with the concepts conceived by Leonardo in Bedfordshire and 2Excel in Northamptonshire.

Richard Berthon, MOD Director Future Combat Air, said, “This contract is a major milestone for the FTA project and demonstrates our commitment in support of the UK Future Combat Air System. I’m excited that this work will enable us to test, in a live flying environment, some of the highly advanced technology that could feature on the aircraft being developed by GCAP.”

Combat aircraft for 2035

The GCAP international collaboration between the UK, Italy and Japan continues to progress at pace, with partners working together to develop a new combat aircraft for 2035.

Defence Procurement Minister, James Cartlidge, commented, “RIAT has been an excellent opportunity to meet with industry leaders and range of companies that support UK Defence in keeping the country safe. The £115 million contract to develop the Excalibur Flight Test Aircraft proves that Britain continues to be a major player in the aviation industry and it’s an important further step in delivering our future fighter jet.”

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