Air Force Kicks Off Search for 6th-Gen Fighter

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.

49 Comments on "Air Force Kicks Off Search for 6th-Gen Fighter"

  1. I hope it is tail-less like in the photo. Didnt BAE originally propose a tail-less JSF? Btw I'm not suprised they are thinking 20 years out. The ATF competion with the YF-22 and YF-23 took place back in the 1980's didnt it? And the F-22 didnt enter service until December 2005.

  2. So they need some sort manned/unmanned fighter jet, that can dish out and survive laser/DE weapons? Not going to happen. If you can shoot down satellite and ICBMs, anti-access seems like a plausible deterrent.

  3. My dream 6th gen fighter = PDE engines, next-gen stealth, can fly manned or unmanned, advanced controls like voice commands and targeting with you eyes, possibly have an active invisibility coating, and equipped with a high power laser and or ramjet missiles.

  4. Why not just pick a F22, take it apart and modify it using the "latest technology" and see whether such 5.5th Gen "F-22 Demo" can do the job described in the pre-solicitation notice? The chance is good that it can and should be far more cost-effective than starting from scratch, again.

  5. Having read the RFI, it's the same sort of presumptuous committee thinking that spit out the JSF. "More of the same, only better!" This idea will probably have nothing to do with our needs in 20 years. It's flat out stupid to even try to plan 20 years ahead with the increasing pace of change. They're basically admitting failure in keeping development cycles under control. I'm getting tired of this.

  6. Mike, I think you are right. I would wait another 10 years before asking for next-gen concepts.

  7. The USAF and USN should certainly start concept evaluation and things of that nature, but we don't even have a firm definition of what a 6th generation fighter will include. Today we should be working on those technologies that will be key to our future aircraft, rather than those aircraft themselves.

    Personally I believe our high-end 6th gen fighter should be a relatively large, twin-engined, highly stealthy design somewhat like Boeing's F/A-XX concept, but with a two man crew. Besides for traditional air-superiority and strike missions. It would also be able to command UAVs and illuminate targets for other less capable aircraft, serving almost like a miniature-AWACs. It would have a carrier-based variant and would feature directed energy weaponry.

    Leaps in engine development are another big WHAT-IF for 6th gen aircraft.

  8. The way their going, they will be lucky if they can afford any.

  9. Just bring back the "Brewster Buffalo"…now there was some advanced Technology for it's time! And Affordable! Ha!

  10. If your going to gen 6 I want the thing to transform into a damn Gundam that will fly & turn into a manned robot with light sabers!!! Ah, the wonders of japanime.

  11. William C sounds on target. Won't lasers and DEW be in theater by 2030? So the 6th Gen will have to have some ability to deflect or absorb lasers. The same surface might also have the ability to bend light and create cloaking effects:

    It might also be the case that the speed of such a fighter could exceed human capabilities to fly. Twenty years from now missiles will be hyper-velocity capable and I rather doubt a fighter could survive without some mega supercruise or scram capability.

    Perhaps this the cause of 6th Gen interest: drones are not very survivable or stealthy. US soldiers risk their lives retrieving downed drones. They are also not very high flying or capable of carrying much load. So after the dronemania has died down a bit, maybe planners see the purpose of manned fighter superiority. We should wait a bit before we move forward which is exactly why we should improve the F-22 until we can replace it. I hear F-22 software will be transferred to the F-35 TO IMPROVE IT, so I wouldn't claim the F-35 is a more advanced air craft. In fact look at the picture above. Seems like today's fighter with their tail fins cut off.

    Maybe Gates is just hearing the feedback on Pak-Fa and the reasoning behind reduced sales for F-35s.

  12. Probably an acknowledgment that theater the F-22/F-35 were going to operate in, and the level of assistance from our 'allies' is something we can't really depend on. Something that works like a fighter, but with a fighter bomber combat radius, 1500 to 2000 nmi should do nicely. Particularly carrier versions.

  13. I say 6th Gen for AF & Navy & add kinetic weapons, Laser pod, EW arrays, improved sensors & Long range Auto Pilot for long missions or make into UAV drones.
    & carry Minigun

  14. I see the f-22 boy lovers are all here. Do this with the 22 do that with the 22. Here is a suggestion, shut the **** up about the f-22. In my mind it is a POS until it proves itself in combat, Send a unit to afghanistan.

  15. Supercruise of mach 2-2.5 would be nice.

  16. On the threshold of 6-10 M supercruise only lasers will help

  17. You wanna know why everything the DoD does is just one screw up after another? I think this article pretty well sums it up. Kelly Johnson was replaced by a dorked up "design by committee" approach to aircraft design so the blood sucker defense contractors can maximize profits and the military bureaucrats can stay safe in their air conditioned Taj Mahal procurement command centers. Only 15% of our military fights (less than that in the Air Force) so to hell with them.

  18. All this money the DoD gives the Chair Force to build wonder planes that never get to use thier high tech capibilies. They could use that money to give us grunts what we need, like lightwieght plates and improved weapons and ammo.( What id give for a .45 or.40 cal siderarm) If the air force wants to build a planes that help in the GWOT. How bout they build a high tech P-47 to provide heavy C.A.S. I mean we're fighting mujahideen not the galactic empire.

  19. I'm ok with Boeng's proposal. Say make 2000 of them to add to our existing defenses..

  20. The Airforce has F99-eyes on what will be a (pull the F-4's out of the desert) budget in about 10 years when the country is nearly bankrupt.

  21. This article ignores the bigger question; what is the capability or technology that will make this Sixth Gen, and not 5.5?

    There's a couple candidates:
    – As previously mentioned, pulse-detonation engines.
    – Directed Energy Weapons as the new "coin of the realm" weapon, or as a major supplement to missiles.
    – Automation.
    – Ultra-high altitude.

    What do you all think?

  22. Next gen fighter is going to be a stealthily drone. It takes 20 years to field a new fighter by then, it would be remarkable if any pilot would even dream of actually getting inside one of these high performance and intelligent beasts 2 decades from now. Who would try and fight in an aircraft that needs to turn 30gs and has reflexes that a human could never posses? Sure occasionally one might need some remote guidance but to think that a future fighter can afford to be constrained by the needs of a human is a bit of a stretch.

  23. what kind of speeds are we discussing with PDEs?

  24. aurora-like, 6mach?
    or was that scramjet?

  25. I think this highlights the heart of the problems associated with American defense acquisitions. We are attempting to design something that we need 20 years down the line… today. That's how we ended up with the F-22 and F-35. Amazingly effective aircraft that have no purpose or application in the reality of today's engagement. Perfect for fighting the Soviets, not so much Joe Towelhead… and I don't understand WHY this is the case. Go back to the 40's/50's and there was a lead time of only a couple years. And now it takes us 20 years…why? Staying ahead of the tech curve (so to speak) is one thing, but this is bankrupting us and preventing us from getting what we actually need NOW.

  26. F-35 was designed after the Cold War in the 90's.

  27. They should buy the Typhoon as it is far stealthier than the F-35 or F-22.

  28. LOL, LOL, LOL, you people don't know what you are talking about i'm afraid. Typhoon is far stealthier than any US fighter be it F-35 or F-22, its all in the shape.

  29. None because with a PDE you can't loiter on CAP for example at efficient speed with a PDE.. Jet enigne propulsion is the only way to go, at least for the next 50 years anyway.

  30. Oh the lasers would never be ready in time either, I an remember the talk of lasers as weapons on aircraft going back 50 years or so now and yet we still have AAM and cannon.

  31. I take it that lasers qualify as "non-kinetic weapons"?

  32. Guys,
    I think what the USAF and DOD is trying to do two things, 1) Develop a replacement for the F-15E and 2) learn from learn from their mistake in developing the F-22/F-35 combination.

    I think the USAF is realising their mistake in developing two fighters instead of one, if you thing about it, F/A18E does the same job which the USAF uses two aircraft for e.g. either the present F-15C/F-16C combination or the proposed F-22/F-35A combination. So developing a replacement for all three versions of the Super Hornet/Growler would make sense for the Navy and which the USAF could also use to replace the remaining F-15C's and the F-15E's at the same time.
    The F-35 project has been a complete cock-up and the Americans can't afford another one like it, so it makes sense for both services to cooperate to develop a common aircraft, especially if you remember the recent USAF report on the proposed development of a new Bomber recommended that it worked in cooperation with sea based Recon, SEAD and Air Dominance aircraft as well as land based ones.

  33. As a nation we can either afford the entitlement state or national defense, not both. It's clear europe has made the choice and have given up on national defense. I suspect America will go the same direction. So the facts are, this aircraft will never fly. Most likely the F35 will never fly in meaningful numbers. The sub-text is that no one in the west cares about arcane ideas like the nation any longer

  34. One thing the feds need to do is perform a major house cleaning, get rid of all the trash and start fresh on some things. I also think they should make it to where the people get to vote on every law that congress tries to pass because we all know everybody in congress wants to add what they want on every bill.

  35. It's pretty exciting that someone is pushing the technology envelope by requiring technologies and techniques that border on sci-fi. The out-of-the-box thinking is amazing.

    The people who design these aircraft must be geniuses.

  36. The skin will be covered with mirrored glass to survive laser attacks.

    Then, if it’s shot down, the enemy will have 7 years of bad luck.

  37. The thing better cook me dinner too.

  38. where is the gun?

  39. If they do to their new plane what they did to the F22-the most advanced fighter in the world- they will build 10@ 10bil. ea. then scrap it.

  40. To free up funds for this 6th generation fighter project, the F-35 program should be severely curtailed with discontinuation of the F-35B altogether. Continue production of an upgraded
    F-22 (at 20 planes/yr) which probably could be transitioned to 6th generation status within the next 15 years. Meet 2nd tier threats with upgraded F-15s, F-16s, F-18s and UCAVs.
    400 billion dollars for the F-35 program? Who is kidding who?

  41. The Vectoring engine improves steering and control as long as she is burning; I bet the concept is sluggish when the lights out. The G capability far exceeds human survivability. the suit they use for short term high G functions isn't enough for this plane; the X35 does things programming is the only thing saving our eager adrenaline junky fighters pilots. This the near last of what will round out the aerial arsenal, The revamping of the F22 to beable to talk to the F35 and the rest of the shield so there is 360* degreee 3-D view of the theatre. Giving the Pentagon a complete view of what is taking place on the battle arena. a shereical view.


  42. Here is an idea, give the 6th gen fighter 2 smaller size PDEs, and 1 smaller size jet engine. Like out of the F/A-18, and stick the jet engine between the 2 PDEs. That way you can loiter at subsonic speeds using the jet engine. Then when you wanted to go supersonic you just turn it off and switch on the 2 PDEs.

  43. The U.S. military has the largest fleet of military aircraft in the world. If any airforce can ever afford to have specialized military aircraft, it is us.

    Why not instead issue a pre-solicitation notice calling for proposals for combatant aircraft, manned or unmanned, ready to enter service by 2020 for the U.S. military for no more than $50 million, no more than $100 million, and no more than $150 million per plane, in 2011 dollars, firm price, no limit on number of proposals per company permitted?

    We could then see what the industry comes up with, instead of setting requirement before the people making the request even really know what is in the realm of the possible.

    My intuition is that the military would be better served by several kinds of specialized combatant aircraft in the under $50 million per plane category, with current technology but not newly invented technology, in a short time frame, than by a $300 million a piece Swiss Army Knife fighter.

  44. Or if PDEs arent read by then, they can use this DARPA program. I know they are already working on a Mach3 turbine for the Navy's RATTLRS missile. But Vulcan would be capable of Mach4.

    Program Manager: Dr. Arthur Mabbett

    The goal of the Vulcan demonstration program is to design, build, and ground test a Constant Volume Combustion (CVC) technology system that demonstrates a 20% fuel burn reduction for a ship based power generation turbine. CVC has been under development for more than a decade. Considerable progress has been made and the technology is believed mature enough to enable a dramatic new system capability. CVC, when combined with turbine engines, offers the ability to design a new class of hybrid turbine power generation engines and Mach 4+ air breathing engines. The Vulcan system will consist of a full scale CVC, a compressor, and a turbine. CVC architectures could include Pulsed Detonation Engines (PDEs), Continuous Detonation Engines (CDEs) or other unsteady CVC architectures. The CVC demonstrated in the Vulcan program would have direct application to aviation turbine engines, ship propulsion turbine engines, high mach air breathing engines, and commercial power turbine engines.

  45. Meanwhile, BUFF, (as in B-52) keeps on flying. We gotta put that plane up there with the DC-3 / C-130 / etc. Multi-purpose aircraft generally excell in no area, Do we really need an F-35? Unless it is a drone?

  46. ahh. I love the future!

  47. This fighter wont be very agile, look at the engines how can this have thrust vectoring?
    And that this thing will fly mach 3 is questionally it will be much smaller,so a lower range and payload than the f-22 and with a titanium shape it will be like the f-22 to heavy to reach mach 3 for long times, its stealth looks like the one of the b-2 which ist the stealthiest aircraft. It might be more realistic that it supercruises at speeds of mach 2.2 or higher. Its strongest weapon might be an airborne laser but it is much cheaper to upgrade f-22 and f-35 with a laser instead of wasting money for a next gen. Fighter that might not be 6th gen. But the problem ist that the navy needs something to replace the super hornets the JSF will replace the c-hornet and the f-22n was terminated and it migh be possible that the same happens with the f/a-xx I dont want to say with that ,that the f/a-xx will be bad, no it will be good, very good on great distance but that was it

  48. i hope that it also traspires into a eurofighter replacement aswell

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