Saturday, November 06, 2010

Future fighters . . .

In Boeing’s conception, traditional electronics give way to photonics, reducing weight and increasing processing speed. 

AS WE WATCH STEVIE STUMBLE over the F-35, it is interesting to note that GIZMODO reports that the Pentagon has initiated design studies for 6th generation replacements for both 5th generation fighters, the F-22 and the F-35. According to the article, "Air Force to End the Need for Pilots In 6th Generation Fighters" by Jesus Diaz,

The United States Air Force is now looking for a F-22 Raptor replacement. It must be in service by 2030 and, for the first time ever, they want to be able to deploy these combat fighters unmanned and remotely controlled.

While the USAF wants to use actual pilots too, they are clear that they want Unmanned Air Vehicle capabilities in their 6th Generation air combat fighter. It seems like they have finally realized that they may not need Maverick and Iceman anymore.

According to, published by the Air Force Association, the USAF has a problem with a rapidly-aging fleet.

The Air Force may have to move a little faster to develop that next generation fighter. While anticipated F-22 and F-35 inventories seem settled, there won’t be enough to fix shortfalls in the fighter fleet over the next 20 years, as legacy fighters retire faster than fifth generation replacements appear.

By 2030, according to internal USAF analyses, the service could be as many as 971 aircraft short of its minimum required inventory of 2,250 fighters. That assumes that all planned F-35s are built and delivered on time and at a rate of at least 48 per year. The shortfall is due to the mandatory retirement of F-15s and F-16s that will have exceeded their service lives and may no longer be safe to fly.

Hanging over the sixth generation fighter debate is this stark fact: The relevant program should now be well under way, but it has not even been defined. If the Pentagon wants a sixth generation capability, it will have to demonstrate that intent, and soon. Industry needs that clear signal if it is to invest its own money in developing the technologies needed to make the sixth generation fighter come about.

Moreover, the sixth generation program is necessary to keep the US aerospace industry on the cutting edge. Unless it is challenged, if the “90 percent” solution is needed in the future, industry may not be able to answer the call.

So, maybe a fleet of Super Hornets might be the wisest choice for Canada, while the technology gets sorted out.

Fighter Generations

The definition of fighter generations has long been subject to debate. However, most agree that the generations break down along these broad lines:

Generation 1: Jet propulsion (F-80, German Me 262).

Generation 2: Swept wings; range-only radar; infrared missiles (F-86, MiG-15).

Generation 3: Supersonic speed; pulse radar; able to shoot at targets beyond visual range (“Century Series” fighters such as F-105; F-4; MiG-17; MiG-21).

Generation 4: Pulse-doppler radar; high maneuverability; look-down, shoot-down missiles (F-15, F-16, Mirage 2000, MiG-29).

Generation 4+: High agility; sensor fusion; reduced signatures (Eurofighter Typhoon, Su-30, advanced versions of F-16 and F/A-18, Rafale).

Generation 4++: Active electronically scanned arrays; continued reduced signatures or some “active” (waveform canceling) stealth; some supercruise (Su-35, F-15SE).

Generation 5: All-aspect stealth with internal weapons, extreme agility, full-sensor fusion, integrated avionics, some or full supercruise (F-22, F-35).

Potential Generation 6: extreme stealth; efficient in all flight regimes (subsonic to multi-Mach); possible “morphing” capability; smart skins; highly networked; extremely sensitive sensors; optionally manned; directed energy weapons.

1 comment:

Boris said...

All other things being equal, sure. But unless we can find near perfect substitutes for oil at scale, at the present economic, social and political cohesion, a 6th Gen fighter will remain on the drawing board.