The UK Ministry of Defence’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) and the National Composites Centre (NCC) have partnered to explore ‘next generation’ composite structures for future combat aircraft.

The partnership is launching a competition to find innovative ideas and capabilities that will chart ‘the direction of the research and for future funding for research projects.’

Existing fighter aircraft like the Eurofighter Typhoon are made from majority composite components. The UK’s Tempest Future Combat Air System (FCAS) will follow this trend with companies involved looking to develop new composites for the future jet.

The two main aims of the joint project are to develop airframe design concepts using trade studies and worked examples, and to ‘systematically collate and develop the underpinning data upon which the airframe design trades are built’.

Dstl and NCC are leading the research and development through a joint steering group and communities bringing in academia, defence primes, SMEs and groups from outside the traditional defence enterprise.

Dstl air systems programme manager Steve Simm said: “Dstl is the science inside UK defence and security. To perform its role, Dstl must identify and harness the most advanced technologies, and working with the NCC and the wider UK community provides an exciting opportunity to explore the art of the possible in the design and manufacture of composite structures for the next generation of UK combat air systems.

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“The emphasis of this work is the exploration of innovative technologies and approaches to reduce mass and through-life cost, and to increase performance, availability, adaptability and modularity.”

The research will look at everything from the overall structural layout of aircraft to manufacturing and assembly and ‘the optimal combination of detail features, and material selection’.

Dstl and the NCC will prioritise ‘transformational ideas that identify and mitigate existing limitations through design’ through novel structural layouts and different levels, features that increase operating strain, designs that increase tolerance and damage resistance.

The organisations are also looking for ideas on how design can increase modularity and adaptability and lower the part count of future aircraft.

NCC chief executive Richard Oldfield said: “We’re delighted to work closely with Dstl to increase the UK’s capabilities and innovation in the use of composites technologies for combat aircraft.

“As a world leader in advanced composites design and manufacture, the NCC is uniquely placed to help enhance Dstl’s know-how for future combat aircraft composite structures.”

The competition’s expression of interest phase opens today, 15 December, and closes on 29 January. Shortlisted entries will then be notified if they have been successful on 19 February. Successful Ideas will be pitched to the steering group in early March. The partnership is aiming to award funding before the end of the same month.

Oldfield added: “That’s why today, we are launching an open call for the brightest and most innovative ideas from a range of organisations so we can work together to equip our Armed Forces with the next generation of high tech, resilient and efficient defence capabilities.

“This will play a crucial role in how the UK responds to the most complex challenges and threats to national security that our country may face.”

The NCC is a UK research centre designed to allow companies of any size to access engineers and experts in the field of composites. The centre’s focus is on ‘accelerating’ the adoption and development of composite materials.