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Future Offensive Air System (FOAS)

The Future Offensive Air System (FOAS) was the UK project to replace the air strike capability provided by the Tornado GR4 from 2017. A wide range of potential solutions were considered, including manned aircraft, unmanned combat air vehicles, air launched unmanned air vehicles, and conventional air launched missiles. A force mix of all of these was thought possible.

In common with most other programs, FOAS emerged gradually from ideas originating in the MODs research program. Readily identifiable spend started in the early 1990s, with the project known at that time as the Future Offensive Aircraft (FOA). As the name suggests, the assumption at that time was that another manned aircraft would eventually replace the RAFs Tornado bombers and Harrier aircraft. The latter requirement has since been merged into the Future Carrier Borne Aircraft program, which was addressing the Royal Navys requirement to replace its Sea Harriers.

Concept studies were carried out over several years, with over 30 configurations studied. This work, and associated Operational Analysis, gave MOD sufficient understanding of its requirements and the likely characteristics (including cost and development timescales) of potential solutions to permit definition of Staff Target (Air) 425 in 1996. This work confirmed that a long range air-delivery strike capability would still be needed when Tornado left service, however it was still uncertain that a new manned aircraft would be the most cost-effective solution.

In 1995 the Ministry of Defence decided to carry out a feasibility study into a future offensive air system. The Tornado GR1 (upgraded to GR4 standard) provided a long-range power projection and air interdiction capability. The study would examine a range of options for maintaining this capability beyond the planned withdrawal date of the GR4 in the second decade of the new millennium.

The decision was made that a series of Feasibility Studies (which started in 1997) should explore unmanned aircraft and long range cruise missiles as well as looking in more detail at possible manned solutions (including derivatives of Tornado and Eurofighter). In recognition of this broader remit, the project was renamed the Future Offensive Air System. Study contracts to the value of 35 million were expected to be placed in 1997. Options to be examined included variants of the Eurofighter and other new design and off the shelf combat aircraft; unmanned air vehicles; and stand-off air-to-ground missiles launched from transport aircraft.


Following a number of minor study programs for generic future combat aircraft dating back to the late 1980s, the FOAS Feasibility Studies were launched in October 1997. Since then four major activity streams were undertaken:

  • Requirements development - following the SDR work continued to develop the concepts for future offensive operations;
  • Solution studies - DERA and Industry teams examined the feasibility and cost effectiveness of a wide range of solutions within the various categories identified so far - manned combat aircraft (new and derivative designs and off-the-shelf solutions), Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs) and Conventionally-armed Air Launched Cruise Missiles (CALCMs);
  • Technology Demonstration Programme (TDP) - a joint approach to the acquisition of technologies for future combat aircraft with the French Government and UK and French industry has resulted in a set of joint and separate technology program proposals with a wide range of UK and French suppliers;
  • Business Systems - reflecting MOD's Smart Procurement Initiative, the project was beginning to implement novel practices and technologies in the areas of systems engineering, electronic commerce, data sharing and synthetic environments.

FOAS was one of the pilot Integrated Project Teams (IPTs) within MOD's Smart Procurement Initiative. This IPT includes representatives from all areas of MOD involved in the project as well as DERA and Industry - by mid 1999 there should be half a dozen full-time DERA and Industry team members and more part-time support.

Within the Concept Studies there was a loosely-formed FOAS Alliance representing British Aerospace Military Aircraft and Aerostructures, Marconi Electronic Systems, Rolls-Royce and Smiths Industries. These companies teamed strategically to ensure a consistent approach to the studies and, at working level, formed IPTs to perform the study work. The largest of these IPT structures was at British Aerospace's Warton site, where more than 100 engineers studied a wide range of both UAV and manned aircraft concepts along with MOD staff. Additionally there were other contractor teams led by Logica, Aerosystems International and Matra-BAe Dynamics who were primarily studying UAV and CALCM concepts. All of the teams, in conjunction with MOD and DERA staff, looked into the balance and capabilities of these individual concepts when they were brought together into a mixed force.

Within the proposed Technology Demonstration Programme there were a series of contractor groupings, with a different make-up for each TDP. The members of these groups ranged from the large airframe suppliers, through engine and avionics manufacturers to specialist materials and components suppliers with proportional representation from UK and French industry.


As of 2001 Major milestones were:

  • 2001 - The "INITIAL GATE". Several possible FOAS solutions will be under consideration, and the key objective of the ASSESSMENT phase that follows will be to reduce risk and identify which options should be taken forward as components of an affordable, coherent solution. A second phase of Technology Demonstrator Programmes (TDPs) and a Technology Demonstration Vehicle (possibly more than one) will be key elements of the risk reduction activity, the latter providing proof of technical concept(s) and helping to validate aspects of the "virtual" solutions which will be defined in parallel as an output of SE. The capabilities of generic TDPs and interaction with other systems will be incorporated into the SEs and new TDPs.
  • about 2008 - "MAIN GATE". A single solution will be chosen for the concept(s) to be taken into the DEMONSTRATION phase, with clear views on international collaboration. The objective will be to reduce risk to an acceptable level and gain confidence in the product specification and associated program for production. Cost/capability trade-offs that might still be required to keep the project within budget will be undertaken.
  • about 2013 - Start of "FULL PRODUCTION". Whilst some long lead time items will need to have been ordered during the DEMONSTRATION phase, this milestone represents the point where the major financial commitment to full-rate production was made. A key factor will be the extent to which the ground and flight test of the development vehicle(s) has given confidence that the product was adequately mature.

The Future Offensive Air System Shared Working Environment enabled the Ministry of Defence and industry to work more effectively together in line with the principles of Smart Acquisition. The system incorporated proven security technology that had been extensively tested, and had the necessary security accreditation for the data held. This accreditation included an assessment of the risks from computer hackers. Although the system connects MOD and industry users, security mechanisms prevent unauthorised access from the Shared Working Environment to other defence information systems.

As of 2002 the future offensive air system was in the concept phase with a planned in service date of around 2017. Teams were in the early stages of evaluating ways in which unmanned aircraft could contribute to future offensive air system (FOAS) capability. As part of a continuing dialogue with United States colleagues, the UK had discussed the X-45 vehicle. But there had been no formal assessment of the X-45; and had any decisions been made about developing or acquiring specific unmanned aircraft in relation to FOAS.

On 18 July 2002 the UK published a new White Paper, Strategic Defence Review New Chapter, setting out further and more detailed conclusions, particularly in the area of capabilities to counter terrorism abroad. So far as UAVs are concerned, part of the work that the UK would do would involve looking at the extent to which they require that offensive capability, as well as the reconnaissance aspect that they already enjoy. Work on UAVs would inform considerably thoughts on FOAS and how it would be taken forward.

By January 2003 a purchase of additional Joint Strike Fighters was one of the options being considered to fill any manned aircraft requirement within the Future Offensive Air System. A range of potential mixes of platforms was being looked at, including Long Range Cruise Missiles, Uninhabited Combat Air Vehicles and manned aircraft. No decisions had been taken. The Government did not expect to make a decision on how many Joint Strike Fighters were required to meet Future Joint Combat Aircraft requirement until 2006. Work to inform this decision was ongoing and in the meantime planning assumption remained that up to 150 Short Take Off and Vertical Landing Joint Strike Fighters would be required.

By 2003 the Future Offensive Air System (FOAS) program was nearing its initial gate. The program had continued to evolve throughout the four years of its Concept Phase as the context and nature of the operational requirement e became more clearly defined. At this stage in its genesis, FOAS was envisaged as providing a suite of capabilities that would complement and reinforce those which would be provided within the nearer term by the UKs aircraft carrier-capable Joint Combat Aircraft (JCA) Force comprising the Short Take-off and Vertical Landing Joint Strike Fighter and Typhoon. It was anticipated that the FOAS programs Initial Gate would be followed by an Assessment Phase designed to offer a detailed analysis of the broad range of candidate systems identified during the programs Concept Phase and their inter-relationships, culminating in a nominal production Main Gate in 2009 and system In Service Date of 2017.

In June 2005 the Future Offensive Air System program was scrapped after years of planning and concept evaluation to make way for a project focused on a family of long-range, long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that would embrace combat, reconnaissance and surveillance roles.

Eurofighter was a very important aircraft for the FOAS project, given that the UK had already invested a great deal of money in its development and that affordability was so important to us. The aircraft was, however, designed primarily as a fighter aircraft, with only a secondary ground-attack capability. In its initial form it was not well suited to long-range bombing missions in dense threat environments carrying heavy weapon loads, but studies looked very seriously at what could be done to adapt it to meet the FOAS requirements. Cost-effectiveness studies were used to compare its capabilities with those of other systems.

In the nearer term, Typhoon would complement Tornado GR4 and would offer real capability operating in, and conditioning, hostile air environments populated by advanced combat aircraft systems; similarly, JCAs arrival at the end of the decade would complement Typhoon and would offer a distinct improvement in survivability in dense, high-threat IADS environments as they proliferate in the medium term; and further ahead, FOAS was our prudent investment in the future that would continue to ensure a sharp tip to the spear as JCA reaches middle age and beyond.

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Page last modified: 17-05-2017 17:18:56 ZULU