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Air Force Kicks Off Search for 6th-Gen Fighter

by John Reed on November 5, 2010

Boeing's Proposed F/A-XX 6th-Gen Fighter

Check this out. Rounding out a week of bad news for what’s set to be the Air Force’s mainstay fighter for the coming decades, the F-35, Steve Trimble at Flight Global dug up the air service’s request for information on what might be an F-22 (and maybe an F-35) replacement.

(Pictured above is Boeing’s proposed 6th-Gen Navy jet.)

The Air Force is interested in a plane, dubbed the Next Generation Tactical Aircraft, equipped with: “Enhanced capabilities in areas such as reach, persistence, survivability, net-centricity, situational awareness, human-system integration, and weapons effects,” a November 4, presolicitation noticestates. “It must be able to operate in the anti-access/area-denial environment that will exist in the 2030–2050 timeframe.”

It goes on to say:

The primary mission in the future Next Gen TACAIR definition is Offensive and Defensive Counterair to include subset missions including Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD), Close Air Support (CAS) and Air Interdiction (AI). It may also fulfill airborne electronic attack and intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance capabilities. This is not an all-inclusive list and the Next Gen TACAIR definition will mature and sharpen as the market research and Capabilities Based Assessment (CBA) unfold.

So, the service wants a long-range, do-it-all, stealthy fighter that can take on the most challenging air defenses around 20 years from now.  I’m wondering what role, if any, is this jet playing in the Pentagon’s plan for a “family” of long range strike systems?

Just yesterday, the Air Force’s top requirements officer, Lt. Gen. Philip Breedlove, said during a breakfast with reporters (including this one), that the bomber portion of the family would indeed work with the current crop of stealth jets such as the F-22 and the F-35 to carry out certain missions. Are service planners now factoring this new bird into the mix, or is it too soon to do that?

Also, what does the service mean by enhanced “human-system integration”? Is the Air Force talking, manned, unmanned or optionally-manned “human-system integration”? A section further down in the document suggests what the service wants:

Of key interest to the Government is technology which is applicable to the following areas (these interest areas are not all inclusive and may change depending on the outcome of the CBA):

The last interest area on the list is:

“Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) and Optionally Manned Systems.”

Another item of interest on that list is “Non-kinetic Weapons.”

This sounds an awful lot like a fighter version of the concept the service says it’s looking for in its new bomber (an aircraft it still must sell Defense Secretary Robert Gates on).

Trimble’s take is here.

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