Tag Archives: Next Generation Air Dominance

The U.S. Air Force Turns 70 Years Old Today: A Look Back, A Look Ahead.

USAF Celebrates Its 70th Anniversary With Reverence for History and Hunger for Innovation.

The United States Air Force turns 70 years old today. The newest branch of the U.S. military was born with the passing of the National Security Act in 1947, a restructuring of U.S. military assets in the wake of WWII. During the Second World War air combat operations were conducted by the Marines, Navy and the Army Air Corps.

The U.S. Air Force is arguably the strongest air force in the world, fielding over 5,500 aircraft across different roles. By comparison, intelligence sources cite the Russian Air Force as fielding approximately 3,794 aircraft, the Chinese Air Force claims to operate approximately 3,000 aircraft. All other countries lag significantly behind in numbers and in technology. The USAF is also the only air force in the world to have operational experience with a fifth-generation combat aircraft, the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor. The F-22 began flying combat missions in Syria in 2014 and has performed the precision strike, air superiority and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) roles operationally.

U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors are providing “kinetic situational awareness” over Syria: the F-22 pilot leverage advanced onboard sensors, as the AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar, to collect valuable details about the enemy Order of Battle, then they share the “picture” with attack planes, command and control assets, as well as Airborne Early Warning aircraft, while escorting other manned or unmanned aircraft towards the targets. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael B. Keller)

In recent years, the Air Force has received criticism from the general public over pilot shortages and costly acquisition programs like the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II, the Air Force variant of the Joint Strike Fighter. It has also rushed to field an effective ballistic missile defense system for the United States mainland, an effort made more important by concerns over recent advances in North Korean missile capabilities.

The realities of the U.S. Air Force suggest that it is efficient in fielding new programs and cost-effective with assessing developmental programs while simultaneously conducting combat and support operations in several locations around the world. One recent example of the Air Force’s highly adaptive evaluation doctrine is the Light Attack Experiment, a program to evaluate the use of low-cost, already available tactical attack aircraft.

Perhaps one of the most significant advancements has been the establishment of the 24th Air Force as “AFCYBER” or the Air Forces Cyber unit. This operational unit fielded in 2010 provides security, surveillance and combat capability on the rapidly evolving cyber battlefield. The unit is fully operational and regularly performs real-world cyber combat operations in defense of the United States and its allies.

Immediately following the formation of the U.S. Air Force 70 years ago today in 1947 the force began a period of remarkable development programs. The Cold War, a conflict that lasted from 1947 until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, was the primary motive for much of the development. This period of remarkable development included advancements like breaking the sound barrier in the Bell X-1 and later achieving the fastest powered atmospheric flight in the X-15.

The Douglas X-3 Stiletto typified the rapid development of experimental aircraft of the USAF in the 1950s. (Photo: USAF)

Later the U.S. Air Force fielded the first operational low-observable or “stealth” combat aircraft with the Lockheed F-117 Night Hawk. The advanced program, that remained classified for years, was also one of the fastest and most cost-effective major acquisition programs in U.S. military history. In fact, there are so many noteworthy Air Force development programs that have set records or created new aviation capabilities they are too numerous to list in a single article.

Even as some superpowers continue to try to achieve technical parity with the U.S. Air Force the USAF continues to innovate with planning for the replacement of the F-22 Raptor, the Next Generation Air Dominance Fighter or “NGAD” and many other new systems.

This is Northrop Grumman‘s concept of the sixth-generation aircraft, known as Next Generation Air Dominance Fighter or “NGAD” fighter jet. (Northrop Grumman)

Considering the U.S. Air Force is the youngest of the armed forces in the United States it is easy to suggest they are the most innovative and have experienced the most change in the last 70 years. Looking ahead to the next century of the U.S. Air Force it’s difficult to envision what it will look like and what its capabilities may be.

New Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works Video Teases The Shape Of The Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) Fighter

A new video provides a glimpse of the 6th Gen. fighter concept that could replace the F-22. But it’s probably not the real one…

A short clip just released by the Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works (H/T to Flightglobal’s Editor Stephen Trimble for the heads-up) teases the shape of the concept-fighter it is developing to compete for the U.S. Air Force Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD), the program will ultimately lead to an air superiority 6th Gen. jet that could replace the F-22 Raptor.

The Next Generation Air Dominance concept points towards a small and much agile manned plane, rumored to be supersonic, long-range, cyber-resilient against threats of the future interconnected world, with morphing metals, self-healing capabilities and ability to carry laser-weapons.

The shape seems to be the very same that Lockheed Martin published in a 2012 calendar distributed to journalists: with an F-22-like nose, flat canted tails and contoured wing, the aircraft strongly reminds the Northrop/McDonnell Douglas YF-23, a single-seat, twin-engine stealth fighter aircraft technology demonstrator designed for the United States Air Force’s Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) competition.

Two YF-23 prototypes were built with the nicknames “Black Widow II” and “Gray Ghost” between 19 but the contract was eventually won by Lockheed with the YF-22 Lightning and the YF-23 program was canceled.

Interestingly, the conceptual sixth-generation fighter being developed by Northrop Grumman today does not seem to be inspired to the YF-23 at all: based on some renderings exposed so far, the aerospace giant is working on a new tailless concept that features the “cranked kite” design that’s in vogue with Northrop Grumman (that built the U.S. Air Force iconic B-2 stealth bombers the X-47B naval killer-drone demonstrator and the still much secret RQ-180 unmanned aerial vehicle surveillance aircraft.)

Northrop Grumman 6th Gen. fighter as shown in a commercial released last year.

The proposed timetables see a sixth-generation fighter being completed some time in the 2030s.

Actually, as reported by Aviation Week’s Guy Norris earlier this summer, Lockheed Martin has recently revealed a radically revised version of the concept so the one included in the above Skunk Works 75th anniversary video is probably only the original concept.

Updated Next-Generation Air Dominance fighter concept released in 2017. (Lockheed Martin).

Russia is also working on 6th gen. aircraft.

Sukhoi design bureau prepared the first blueprints for Russia’s sixth-generation fighter jets TASS news agency reported last year.

“I’m referring also to new design concepts briefly presented by the Sukhoi design bureau and by the general designer appointed for all aircraft systems and armaments [..] They have really come up with the designs for the creation of the sixth-generation fighter” Moscow’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said in a meeting with the journalists.

So, although the T-50 PAK-FA, its first 5th Gen. stealth fighter, is still being developed, Moscow has started working on its replacements, even though no further detail about the technologies that the new aircraft types will embed has been unveiled.

There are reasons to believe the Russian sixth-generation concept is going to be somehow different from the U.S. Air Force’s F-X Next Generation Air Dominance: Sukhoi might base its 6th Gen. on the PAK-FA and upgrade the design throughout the years similarly to what they have done with the Su-27 and subsequent Flanker variants up to the Su-35S.

This means that the PAK-FA will probably become a 5++ Gen. thanks to the planned upgrades and be the base for Russia’s 6th Gen. fighter.

Among the most interesting upgrades in the PAK-FA (now Su-57) roadmap there’s a future radar based on photonics that was announced by the Russian state-owned Radio-Electronic Technologies (KRET) in December 2015 and a full-scale working model is expected by the end of 2018.

The ultra-wideband active radio-optical phased array technology (known by its Russian acronym ROFAR) radar will be half the weight of a current conventional radar and allow to virtually get a “3D TV picture on a range up to 400 km.”

Considered the operational range of the radar, the ROFAR will be virtually impossible to jam, at least on paper.

However, such optimistic claims will have to be backed by facts: unlike the U.S., that have been operating 5th Gen. aircraft (the F-22 and, more or less, the F-35) and active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars for years, so far, Russia has not been able to operate a next generation stealth aircraft nor AESA radar system (both ones are still at the testing stage).

Here’s why the U.S. should restart the F-22 Raptor production line instead of developing a sixth generation fighter

With some tweaks the F-22 Raptor can maintain the edge over the future fighters the U.S. adversaries are developing.

The development of a sixth generation fighter should not be a top priority for the U.S Air Force given that, according to Rob Weiss, executive vice president and general manager of Lockheed Martin’s legendary Skunk Works division, regular updates to the F-22 and F-35 would keep the edge of the current U.S. stealth fighters over China’s and Russia’s future fifth generation warplanes.

Weiss recently told to DefenseOne.com, that these aircraft already enable the U.S. to have a distinct advantage over the capabilities its adversaries are developing and that a replacement for today’s F-22 and F-35 fighter jets isn’t needed anytime soon: “We’ve done this analysis for more than a decade now and it’s clear that the fifth-generation F-22s and F-35s are very capable versus a threat and substantially more capable than any fourth-generation airplane. There’s, in our view, little point in developing a new airplane that doesn’t do anything more than what you can do as you modernize F-22s and F-35s.”

Instead the Pentagon should invest in developing “truly game-changing technologies and capabilities” that will be part of the future sixth-generation fighter whose development, added Weiss, should start in a decade or more from now.

On the contrary, the U.S. Air Force is already procuring the ultimate future fighter that will eventually replace the Raptor under the so-called Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program.

But, assuming that a new fighter would require no less than twenty years to be developed, restarting the F-22 production line would be for sure a more cost-effective move for the service.

The procurement of additional Raptors would also make the JSF more capable, given that as we have already explained, the Air Force said that without the support of a dedicated air superiority fighter such as the F-22, the F-35 would be irrelevant.

Furthermore reopening the Raptor production would give the chance to fix the few shortcomings the aircraft has.

For instance, thrust vectoring (TV) wasn’t a strictly needed feature since it could bring some stealthy trade-offs to the airframe of an aircraft built to achieve most of his kills silently. Moreover, although during within visual range (WVR) engagements TV can be very useful to put the F-22 in the proper position to score a kill, it requires an appropriate use to prevent the Raptor from losing energy and becoming very vulnerable.

Eventually a helmet-mounted display (HMD), which the aircraft still lacks, coupled with the recently integrated AIM-9X missile, could equally turn the F-22 into a lethal dogfighter, given that the HMD would enable the pilot to exploit the full High Off-Boresight (HOBS) capabilities of the weapon.

Fixing the F-22 shortcomings and then restarting its production line would be the best solution for the U.S. Air Force also according to Jamie Hunter, editor of Combat Aircraft Monthly, who wrote on the December 2015 issue of the magazine: “How about a risk-reduced approach for NGAD? Take the almost perfect Raptor and put it back into production, albeit this time with the tweaks that make it truly the best fighter ever can be. That approach may just help mitigate against the early cost over – runs and delays – and provide capability faster and when it’s needed.”

F-22 Vs Sixth Generation fighter

Image credit: Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard / U.S. Air Force

Northrop Grumman has just released an animation that shows how 6th Generation fighters might look like

Northrop Grumman has just launched a new ad that teases next generation fighter jets.

One year ago, Northrop Grumman, at that time competing with Lockheed Martin and Boeing for the LRS-B ( Long Range Strike-Bomber) released an interesting ad that teased the shape of the next generation bomber.

Earlier today, the aerospace giant released a new ad that clearly shows, along with a B-2 and some X-47B UCAVs, three 6th Gen. fighters: the new tailless concept, already exposed by some renderings last year, features the “cranked kite” design that’s in vogue with Northrop Grumman, which built the U.S. Air Force iconic B-2 stealth bombers the X-47B naval killer-drone demonstrator and the still much secret RQ-180 unmanned aerial vehicle surveillance aircraft.

The so-called Next Generation Air Dominance concept points towards a small and much agile plane, rumored to be supersonic, long-range, cyber-resilient against threats of the future interconnected world, and able to carry laser-weapons.