The US Air Force has begun experimenting and conceptual planning for a 6th generation fighter aircraft to emerge in coming years as a technological step beyond the F-35.

The Navy vision for a future carrier air wing in 2040 and beyond is comprised of the carrier-launched variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35C, and legacy aircraft such as the EA-18G Growler electronic jamming aircraft.

Also, around this time is when Navy planners envision its 6th generation aircraft to be ready, an aircraft which will likely be engineered for both manned and unmanned missions.

Technologies are rapidly advancing in coatings, electromagnetic spectrum issues, artificial intelligence, maneuvering, superiority in sensing the battlespace, communications and data links.

Super cruise technology would enable the new fighter jet to cruise at supersonic speeds without needing afterburner, analysts have explained. As a result, super cruise brings a substantial tactical advantage because it allows for high-speed maneuvering without needing afterburner, therefore enable much longer on-location mission time. The Air Force F-22 has a version of supercruise technology.

The future system will have to counter adversaries equipped with next generation advanced electronic attack, sophisticated integrated air defense systems, passive detection, integrated self-protection, directed energy weapons, and cyber attack capabilities. It must be able to operate in the anti-access/area-denial environment that will exist in the 2030–50 timeframe.

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 2016 the USAF Scientific Advisory Board announced studies for a Penetrating Counterair (PCA) platform that would combine long range, supersonic speed, stealth and maneuverability and be fielded by 2030.