RIP, F-35: Meet the Air Force and Navy’s 6th Generation Stealth Fighter Programs
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Both the United States Air Force and the United States Navy have separate programs to launch a 6th generation fighter.
The Air Force and Navy both fly the 5th generation F-35 jet, with the Air Force also the only user of the F-22 Raptor, perhaps the world's most stealthy jet fighter. Despite the dominance of the airframe, work is already underway on a 6th generation fighter.
Little is known about the 6th generation Navy or Air Force hunting programs - and this worries the House Armed Services Committee. According to work on the Defense Policy Bill for 2021, up to 85% of the funding requested for the NGAD programs could be withheld until an independent review was performed.
But what are the programs like? Although the programs of both branches have the same name, Next Generation Air Dominance, the similarities probably end here.
Navy Next Generation Air Dominance
The Navy's efforts are mysterious, though they would replace their F / A-18E / F Super Hornets. The Super Hornets are not particularly old, but the design is considered unhealthy despite measures to reduce the radar cross section. The survivability at sea against secret aircraft in the future is questionable. The replacement of the Navy is provisionally referred to as F / A-XX.
To approve funding for the F / A-XX program, the Navy plans to reduce future Super Hornet orders and reduce its order from thirty-six in 2021 to just twenty-four airframes. The savings achieved by purchasing twelve Super Hornets would be included in the F / A-XX budget in the coming years. However, the House Armed Services Committee was not convinced of the idea and urged the Navy not to restrict Super Hornet orders.
Air Force Next Generation Air Dominance
On the other hand, the Air Force wants to take a different approach, the so-called Digital Century Series. The name is reminiscent of the so-called Century series of jets that were designed when the United States entered the jet age.
A number of different companies quickly and easily designed and developed prototypes for the jet designs of the new century series. Well-known airframes such as the F-100 Super Saber or the F-105 Thunderchief are some notable examples. Competition in the market resulted in a large number of jets that were quickly prototyped and commissioned, and allowed the United States to use a relatively wide range of airframes with different capabilities.
The speed with which new designs were created and then put into service stands in stark contrast to newer programs such as the F-35, which took over a decade from the start to its launch.
Instead of building new technologies over time, the Digital Century Series urged the U.S. aerospace industry to use existing technologies to get the best airframe up and running quickly in just a few years. Competitions would take place every few years and new fighters would be put into service quickly.
Regardless of the final design of the Air Force's Air Dominance programs and the Next Generation Navy, both must convince Congress that their plans are worth the cost. Although not much is known about NGAD, you should watch this topic closely as new developments emerge.
Caleb Larson is a defense writer with a national interest. He has a Master of Public Policy and deals with US and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.
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