Brainstorming the Fighter after Next

F-35. Lockheed photo.

F-35. Lockheed photo.


The general in charge of the U.S. Air Force’s Air Combat Command says he doesn’t know what the flying branch’s after-next jet fighter will look like. But he does know the Air Force will need a so-called “sixth-generation” fighter beginning around 2030, just as the planned purchase of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters is winding down.

“There will have to be a sixth generation” of jet fighters,” Gen. Mike Hostage, a former F-15 pilot, said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., on Friday. Whatever form it takes, the new warplane must incorporate what Hostage called “game-changing capability.”

“We don’t yet know what it is but we’re out there looking carefully,” Hostage added. However, the general offered some clues about the broad direction of warplane development.

The third generation of jet fighters from the Vietnam era were meant to double as strategic bombers carrying tactical nuclear weapons, Hostage said. They flew high and fast but weren’t very maneuverable.

By contrast, the fourth generation of fighters from the 1970s and ’80s — the F-15 and F-16 — were designed from the outset as “maneuvering platforms” optimized for close-range air combat. They featured excellent agility and visibility and the first reliable air-to-air weapons.

The way Hostage described it, improving air defenses forced fighter designers to add radar stealth when they invented the fifth generation of fighters, including the F-22 and F-35. But they also retained all the qualities of fourth-gen jets. This layering of capabilities resulted in aircraft that were extremely expensive to design, produce and maintain. “It will always be more expensive to maintain a stealth airplane,” Hostage said.

That expense forced the Pentagon to cut F-22 purchases to just 187 operational airframes — a “pitifully small number,” Hostage said. “Quantity does have to be part of the mix.”

To that end, the Air Force plans to buy 1,763 F-35s. A few dozen are already in production as the Lockheed Martin-made fighter continues development through 2016. The Air Force intends to keep hundreds of F-15s and F-16s in service alongside the F-22s and the growing fleet of F-35s. “I need the F-35 to add a fifth-generation layer to make the fourth-generation force effective out to 2030,” Hostage said.

That’s when the Air Force should begin to acquire the sixth-generation plane, whatever it is. If recent history is any guide, the sixth generation will retain the qualities of the fourth and fifth generations — that is, agility and stealth — while adding some new, revolutionary quality.

Hostage did not say what that might be, but other officials have offered up ideas. Last year Air Force chief scientist Mark Maybury said that future U.S. warplanes should replace hydraulic components with electrical ones, producing a kind of “more-electric aircraft” that’s more reliable, stealthy in the infrared spectrum and able to support energy weapons such as lasers or microwaves.

Neither Maybury nor Hostage has speculated as to how the Pentagon will be able to afford a brand-new fighter.

One thing is clear. Unmanned aircraft are not yet able to replace manned planes — and might not be for a long time, Hostage said.

“A lot of people have grown enamored of unmanned systems,” Hostage said. “They can go and do things in places manned airplanes can’t.” But, he added, “they don’t have the awareness that a manned plane would have.”

The human brain is still the best computer. As long as that holds true, the fighter after next will, at the very least, still be a manned plane.

This entry was posted in David Axe, English.

9 Responses to Brainstorming the Fighter after Next

  1. Truly agree with this 🙂

  2. Harald Hansen says:

    At the present it’s not easy to see how the US Air Force will even afford a new generation of fighter. The current trends point towards even more complex and expensive hardware. But maybe the tide will turn. Maybe the next one will be “Light-Weight Energy Weapon Fighter” or something like that.

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  4. Guest says:

    Gen. Mike Hostage, YOU DON”T need the lemon F-35 to add a fifth-generation layer to make the fourth-generation force effective out to 2030.

    The F-35 will be inadequate to deal with the changed threat environment which has shown that the aircraft has a lot of limitations and it cannot do a lot of things as expected to show and promise that is a true fifth generation fighter, because it does not meet all the requirements of partner nations. The F-35 was defined during the mid-1990s to have “affordable” aerodynamic performance, stealth performance, sensor capabilities and weapons loads to be “affordably” effective against the most common threat systems of that era past – legacy Soviet Cold War era weapons, not for the 21st Century emerging threats. The F-35 is designed primarily to support ground forces on the battlefield with some self defence capabilities and is not suitable for the developing regional environment and, not suitable for close air support missions. The aircraft is unsuited for bomber and cruise missile defence due to limited range/endurance, limited weapons load and limited supersonic speed. As its limitations are inherent to the design, they cannot be altered by incremental upgrades The F-35 will be ineffective against the current generation of extremely powerful advanced Russian and Chinese systems, as detailed above; In any combat engagements between the F-35 and such threat systems, most or all F-35 aircraft will be rapidly lost to enemy fire.

    If you have the F-35s that just aren’t capable of dealing with the high threat zones, it just doesn’t do you any good of going ahead with the failed program and sink the money. Because the F-35 will be increasingly expensive aircraft that will fail the air defence program.

    “Why will the F-35 fail the FX-III requirement? It has the ability to penetrate heavily defended airspace and hold targets of interest at risk any time you want to. That’s what the F-35 can do because it’s stealthy”.

    Well unfortunately there’s absolutely no point of selecting the F-35 because some hostile nations could well be purchasing the Nebo M Mobile “Counter Stealth” Radar, advanced S-400 and S-500 SAM systems which will make the F-35 obsolete.

    If anyone wants to find out more about this counter stealth radar, here’s a description if you’re interested.

    Development initiated late 1990s leveraging experience in Nebo SVU VHF-Band AESA radar;

    2012-2013 IOC intended;

    Designed from the outset to detect stealth fighters and provide early warning and track data to missile batteries and fighters;

    The VHF component will provide a significant detection and tracking capability against fighter and UCAV sized stealth targets;

    High off-road capability permits placement well away from built up areas, enabling concealment;
    Rapid deploy and stow times permit evasion of air attacks by frequent movement, defeats cruise missiles like JASSM;

    Initial Nebo M builds for Russian Air Defence Forces, but expected like other “counter-stealth” radars to be marketed for global export to arbitrary clientele.

    The VHF band element in that radar will detect the F-35 at a distance of tens of miles. That is without a doubt. What that means is that the aircraft is going to be in great difficulty if it tries to deal with what I call a modern or contemporary threat. The same is also true when you deal with these newer stealth fighters, because they are designed to compete with the F-22. They fly higher; they are faster and more agile—much, much more agile. They have more powerful radars and much, much better antenna packages for other sensors. The F-35 is not meeting its specifications and its specifications are inadequate to deal with the changed environment.

    If the F-35 was to be able to meet its specifications, the aircraft will have the ability of going up against a 1980s Soviet air defence system of the type that we saw destroyed very effectively in Libya 12 months ago, the F-35 would be reasonably be effective in that environment, because these older Soviet radars would not see it.

    But if you are putting F-35 up against the newer generation of much, much more powerful Russian radars and some of the newer Chinese radars, the aircraft is quite detectable, especially from behind, the upper side and from the lower sides as well.

    Also F-35 will also be detected by the L-Band AESA. It is used for targetting which they’ll be able to track LO/VLO stealth planes such as the F-35 especially from behind, the upper side and from the lower sides as well. Unfortunately the exhaust nozzle of the F-35 will be extremely hot.

    The back end of the F-35 in full afterburner is something like 1600 degrees (Fahrenheit). In terms of temperature, aluminum combusts at 1100. You are talking about something really, really hot. If you have got a dirty big sensor on the front of your Su-35S or your PAK-FA or whatever, it lights up like Christmas lights and there is nothing you can do about it. And the plume, because of the symmetric exhaust, is all over the place. It is not shielded, it is not ducted in any useful way. The Sukhois will be able to seek and destroy the F-35 when using the heat seeking BVR AA-12 (R-77) Adder AAMs.

    The APG-81 AESA radar. The nose geometry of the F-35 limits the aperture of the radar. This makes the F-35 dependent on supporting AEW&C aircraft which are themselves vulnerable to long range anti-radiation missiles and jamming. Opposing Sukhoi aircraft have a massive radar aperture enabling them to detect and attack at an JSF long before the JSF can detect the Sukhoi. It has Medium Power Aperture (0) (Detection range around 140 – 150 nm at BVR)
    Compared to which other aircraft’s radar?

    The N011 Irbis-E (Snow Leopard) for the Su-35S Super Flanker-E
    NIIP claims a detection range for a closing 32.3 square feet (3 square metre) coaltitude target of 190 – 250 NMI (350-400 km), and the ability to detect a stealthy aircraft while closing 0.11 square feet (0.01 square metre) target at ~50 NMI (90 km). In Track While Scan (TWS) mode the radar can handle 30 targets simultaneously, and provide guidance for two simultaneous shots using a semi-active missile like the R-27 series, or eight simultaneous shots using an active missile like the RVV-AE/R-77 or ramjet RVV-AE-PD/R-77M.

    The PAK-FA will feature the N050 BRLS IRBIS AFAR/AESA?, similar to the Su-35S N011.
    * Frequency: X-Band (8 – 12 GHz)
    * Diameter: 2 ft 4 in (0.7 m)
    * Targets: 32 tracked, 8 engaged
    * Range: 248 mi (400 km)
    EPR: 32.3 ft² (3 m²): 99.4 mi (160 km) and 0.11 sq.ft (0.01 sq.m) target at ~50 NMI (90 km)
    Azimuth: +/-70°, +90/-50°
    * Power: 4,000 W
    * Weight: 143 to 176 lb (65 to 80 kg)

    Again, the F-35 will be detectable from behind the fuselage, the upper side and from the lower sides as well, except for the front area, a conservative estimate for the frontal RCS of the F-35 would be 0.0015 square metre which is only stealthy in the front, this is what I call “Partial Stealth” which the F-35 does have. Because if the situation arises, the Sukhoi family of fighters, upcoming J-20 or J-60 can out-run, out-climb and out-manoeuvre, and be able to track the F-35 using L-band AESA, IRST sensor (from the upper and lower sides and aft fuselage) and launch their AAMs from any altitude at speed etc.

    The bad news is, with the changed environment the F-35 will be obsolete when the aircraft arrives in 2018 or later, the US as well the allies are armed with this aircraft will make their air power totally ineffective in the next 30 to 40 years. I’m complaining about Lockheed Martin lying and misleading to the military and the public what they state their facts what the F-35 can do etc etc. And I don’t see any contradiction with the way I’ve promoted these new Russian/Chinese radars etc.

    The F-35 is a boondoggle, nothing but a turkey of the program.

  5. Guest says:

    Gen. Mike Hostage, the F-35s are chickenfeed to the Sukhoi family, J-20 and J-31. The F-35’s high power jammer will have this capability but will likely be unusable against the most likely high threat scenarios. Again, the F-35 is the world’s first trillion-dollar plane that will certainly fail the air defence requirement – so it must be very, very bad.

    For instance, the electronic warfare capabilities of the Su-35S Super Flanker-E are also more extensive than in earlier Flankers-Bs. A comprehensive internal ESM/RWR system is fitted. Wingtip KNIRTI SAP-518 series phased array EWSP jamming pods are the baseline, with 5 to 18 GHz coverage against SAM engagement radars, SAM seekers and fighter radars. A large centreline SAP-14 pod can be carried for support jamming, this 1 to 4 GHz design being analogous to US ALQ-99 pods on the EA-18G Growler, but using electronic rather than mechanical beam steering. A Missile Approach Warning System (MAWS) and expendables are carried. To enhance the potency of the EWSP suite, extensive treatment with radar absorbent materials has been applied, following the model used in the F/A-18E/F and F-15SE, with Russian claims of a thirty fold reduction in frontal X-band signature. In practice, external stores will impair signature gains much as in the Boeing fighters.

    The F-35 is neither balanced survivability nor a true stealth 5th generation aircraft. The F-35 has no credible defensive jamming. Those selling the idea that the F-35’s AESA radar as a defensive device against enemy terminal radar concerns aren’t believable. Power output limits, thermal concerns along with the limited field of view and in-band frequency limits make the idea of the F-35 radar as a defensive solution of little value. It is only useful on a marketing PowerPoint slide to the clueless Hostage. And, unlike the designers of the F-22, the F-35 will not be in possession of true stealth, high-speed and high altitude to help degrade enemy no-escape-zone firing solutions of weapons. The thrust-vectoring on the F-22 is also an aid for quickly changing direction at Mach and not just sub-sonic speed.

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