R&D opportunity for future combat aircraft composite structures  

* The deadline has passed for Expressions of Interest *

The NCC and the Defence Science Technology Laboratory (Dstl) are working together to explore the art of the possible for the next generation of lightweight, strong and resilient combat aircraft composite structures.  

The UK needs to be at the forefront of cutting-edge technology with its defence and combat capabilities to support our national security interests, to protect our people, and to safeguard our prosperity. Investing in advanced research across the range of potential combat aircraft concepts is essential to ensure the defence and security needs of our front-line commands are met. This spans next-generation manned combat aircraft, unmanned adjuncts, and the associated range of development and procurement approaches (e.g. spiral development). 

Composites are used in all areas of modern society to make things lighter, stronger, smarter, more durable, and more sustainable. High performance vehicles including modern fighter jets and Formula 1 cars are 80% made from composite materials, which equates to 40% of the total weight for the jet and just 25% for the Formula 1 car. This proves just how effective composites are, however, we know that composite technologies still have a lot more to offer. The NCC and Dstl will innovate, push boundaries and exploit composite technologies for combat aircraft even further through this new partnership. 

There are two primary aims of this joint Advanced Design of Composites Structures for Future Combat Aircraft (ADCoSCA) programme: 

  • to develop airframe design concepts through trades studies and worked examples; and  
  • to systematically collate and develop the underpinning data upon which the airframe design trades are built, including the performance of composite materials and features, and to identify and mitigate those features that are constraining performance and cost.

The NCC and Dstl will lead the programme through their joint steering group and wider community, which will bring together the greatest minds from academia, leading defence primes, SMEs and other parties outside of the traditional defence sector. The programme includes a balance of intramural research at NCC, and extramural research, both of which could be influenced by the community. 

Design and research ideas

The partnership kicked off with a competitive invitation to organisations to pitch their design and research ideas in order to influence the content of the programme, and where and how aspects of it are undertaken. The steering group will now work with the community to develop and downselect these ideas into a coordinated series of funded research projects.  

Priority shall be given to those transformational ideas that identify and mitigate existing limitations through design, such as through innovative structural layout at the platform and sub-assembly level; through detail features that permit increased operating strain; through design approaches that provide extreme levels of damage resistance and/or tolerance; and through design approaches that provide extreme levels of modularity, adaptability, and part-count reduction. 

The steering group would like to engage the UK community, drawing from SMEs, academia and traditional primes as well as parties outside of the traditional defence sector, and would like to explore gearing opportunities such as matched funding and collaboration.  

All intellectual property owned by individual organisations will be protected and tracked with any engagements involving the steering group. 

Competition process 

Organisations of any size are invited to get involved including large defence primes, SMEs, composite specialists, other third parties outside of the traditional defence sector, and academic researchers. Multiple partners may also collaborate on projects. 

The first stage of the process was for organisations and interested parties to pitch their ideas through an Expression of Interest, which closed on 29 January 2021.

Parties with successful will soon be invited to engage in further planning of the research programme, and to submit formal bids for funding. If successful, funding will typically be awarded before the end of March 2021. Thus, interested parties have an opportunity to influence the work of programme and the selection of those undertaking it, and potentially to undertake aspects of the programme themselves. 


  • Expression of Interest opportunity opens – Tuesday 15 December 2020 
  • Webinar with presentations and Q&A – Wednesday 13 January 2021 
  • Expression of Interest phases closes – Friday 29 January 2021, 17:00hrs 
  • Applicants informed of the outcome of their Expressions of Interest. Those that have been shortlisted invited to pitch ideas to the steering group, with the potential for funding – Friday 19 February 2021 
  • Ideas pitched to the Steering Group – w/c 1 March 2021 
  • Outcomes communicated to relevant organisations – before the end of March 2021

Further information 

If you have any questions, please contact us at [email protected]

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