Telefónica, Leonardo put private 5G to work on UK’s next-gen Tempest fighter plane
The UK divisions of Spain-based mobile operator Telefónica and Italy-based aerospace manufacturer Leonardo have announced a deal to collaborate on private 5G for Industry 4.0, including for the “high-pace” manufacturing of the “next-generation” Tempest combat aircraft system, a joint defence project between the UK, Italy, and Sweden.
The partnership is the first initiative to be announced by Leonardo’s newly established Innovation and Technology Incubator Centre in Edinburgh, in Scotland, billed as a new Industry 4.0 incubation hub “for those with alternative business ideas and disruptive technology”. The Italian firm is one of the UK’s biggest technology and engineering firms, and a “principal supplier” to the UK Ministry of Defence.
O2, Telefónica’s mobile brand in the UK, said it will show how private 5G improves “industrial connectivity, flexibility, productivity, and security in manufacturing”. Potential applications include new “future-factory” manufacturing capabilities, such as those required in the Tempest programme around future air combat capabilities, it said. These include “delivery of missions wirelessly” and secure support and maintenance for military aircraft and helicopters.
The trilateral Tempest framework between the UK, Italy, and Sweden unites leading defence companies from each nation in pursuit of cutting-edge air combat technologies. Beside Leonardo, from Italy, with innovation and manufacturing businesses in the UK, the programme includes BAE Systems and Rolls Royce from the UK; Elettronica and Avio Aero from Italy, and Saab and GKN Aerospace from Sweden.
O2 said it will test how 5G delivers mission, support, and maintenance data updates to aircraft, such as the Leonardo AW159 Wildcat helicopter, in order to accelerate turnaround times between missions and improve platform reliability — “whilst meeting the stringent security requirements necessary for front line military systems”. Another joint project will investigate how Leonardo’s facilities can use 5G to support “digital manufacturing and intelligent infrastructure”
O2 said in a statement: “By using a private, highly-secure 5G network, Leonardo can adopt game-changing Industry 4.0 approaches while continuing to meet the security obligations expected by its government and military customers. This will be critical in delivering programmes such as Tempest, the next-generation combat air system, which is being designed to be manufactured significantly faster and at lower cost than previous generation combat aircraft.”
Other use cases include AR/VR based ‘remote expert’ training, various health and safety solutions, asset tracking in distribution and logistics, and remote drone-mounted camera solutions. The project will also consider how Leonardo could offer private 5G to its own customers, internationally, said O2.
Norman Bone, chair and managing director at Leonardo UK, said “5G will be an important tool for the UK’s aerospace, defence, and security industry as we look to stay competitive in the global market and continue to export products and services from the UK. This partnership will inform rollout of this technology within Leonardo and its wider potential across our industry and customer base.”
Jo Bertram, managing director of business at O2, said: “The partnership will explore how we can use 5G private networks in the wider defence sector, demonstrating their capability to help digitally transform a business and leveraging our ability to draw from a deep and rich application ecosystem.”
Writing in a blog post, Sergio Budkin, director of business products and propositions at O2, commented: “Private networks are not new, they are vital for many businesses that need secure connectivity to manage business-critical processes. [They are] already powering the connectivity infrastructure in industrial environments including manufacturing, logistics and transport hubs. [But] the potential impact of 5G private networks in industries and sectors is huge.”
“With 5G, private networks deliver an enhanced secure connectivity, both in terms of the data transferred and devices. It also enables a complete control of applications and traffic prioritisation. Businesses can also increase reliability by overcoming signal obstructions associated with other technologies, by sending data to its destination via alternative paths. Meanwhile, the low latency and high bandwidth nature of 5G increases the volume of data flow and speed of communication.”