In 2016, the US Navy and US air force are in a position to set out on a joint analysis of alternatives (AoA) for the follow on to Navy’s Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the Air Force’s Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor air superiority fighter, said Rear Adm. Mike Manazir.
As part of the Fiscal Year 2016 budget, the Navy has set aside $5 million to start the F/A-XX work — planned to replace the Super Hornets in the 2030s.
So what we would look at is everything — from an airframe, to a family of systems, to continuing something we already have flying, to capabilities that we already have in the air wing or the joint world — to assess what we really need to replace the Super Hornet,” Manazir said.
“We’re advancing engine technology. We’re working with academia, industry, other services — the weapons labs in the services to advance that technology. We’re also advancing technology in outer mold lines for airframes for faster air speeds from traditional airframes — trying to make them go faster for the fight. Obviously broadband stealth and IR stealth, the capabilities we could put into coatings, ways you could use electromagnetic energy, ways that you could dominate the EM spectrum a little better,” Manazir said.
The sixth-generation fighters are expected to use advanced engines such as Adaptive Versatile Engine Technology to allow longer ranges and higher performance. Risk reduction began in 2012 so that engine development can start around 2020. An engine is to be ready when fighters are introduced by the Navy in 2028 and the Air Force in 2032.
In November 2013, the Air Force Research Laboratory released a request for information (RFI) for a laser weapon that could be mounted on next-generation air dominance fighters by the 2030s. The Air Force is interested in three categories of lasers: low-power for illuminating, tracking, targeting, and defeating enemy sensors; moderate-power for protection to destroy incoming missiles; and high-power to offensively engage enemy aircraft and ground targets. The laser and systems controls are to work at altitudes from sea level to 65,000 ft at speeds from Mach 0.6 to Mach 2.5. Laser submissions are to be at technology readiness level 4 (basic components work in a lab) by October 2014, and the Air Force wants a system to be at technology readiness level 5 (system components work in a simulated environment) or higher by 2022.
The ADaptive Versatile ENgine Technology (or ADVENT) program is an aircraft engine development program run by the United States Air Force with the goal of developing an efficient variable cycle engine for next generation military aircraft in the 20,000 lbf (89 kN) thrust class.
Specific goals include reducing average fuel consumption by 25% and reducing the temperature of cooling air produced by the engine.
The ADVENT engine will be better suited for a potential 2020 engine upgrade for the F-35 Lightning II.
The RAND Corporation has recommended that the U.S. military services avoid joint programs for the development the design of a sixth-generation fighter. Studies by RAND have found that in previous joint programs, different service-specific requirements for complex programs have led to design compromises that raise costs far more than normal single-service programs.