Why might sixth generation fighter jets fail?

Why might sixth generation fighter jets fail?

The U.S. Air Force’s sixth-generation stealth fighter, considered to eventually replace the F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters, may face a challenging future to say the least.

While it is certainly not exhaustive, consider for a moment the challenges such an aircraft will face.

Stealth technology may be on the decline. The new aircraft may very well have to fire missiles beyond sight range to take out enemy air defenses. Opponents can improve sensor technology that can snoop so well that the radar-absorbing material might not fool them.

This means that sixth generation fighters must also excel in electronic warfare to block enemy surface-to-air missile systems. It has to be bigger with better engines to carry more missiles. It would need artificial intelligence to control the drones. And finally, deep pockets in Congress to pay for everything.

Can all of this come together to provide a fighter jet to meet the needs of the 21st century? Here’s a quick rundown of the challenges a 6th generation fighter will face.

Next generation aerial domain

Work has already begun on the Next Generation Air Dominance program.

The main idea for the new fighter will be the Penetrating Counter Air concept. This refers to the fact that the aircraft was able to defeat Russia’s or China’s anti-access denial efforts.

The accomplishment of this feat may require radar-absorbing materials that have not yet been invented.

Need for long-range missiles

A US Air Force F-16 firing an AIM-120 AMRAAM over the gulf near Eglin AFB

Next Generation Air Dominance pilots shouldn’t fly too close to their targets, or they could be shot down, even with the best stealth characteristics.

So long-range missiles are needed that go beyond the range of the AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM). This missile has been improved over the past 25 years, but it probably can’t get better. The AIM-120D has a maximum range of 99 miles.

The maximum range of the AIM-260 Joint Advanced Tactical Missile is 124 miles. Not exactly a huge improvement. Perhaps long-range hypersonic missiles are the answer.

Bigger plane with better engines and a loyal wingman?

The XQ-58A Valkyrie demonstrator, a long-range subsonic unmanned aerial vehicle completed its maiden flight on March 5, 2019 at Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona

A sixth generation fighter should also have a larger cell to carry more missiles for a better “first look, first shot” advantage. A larger cell would require improved engines.

Another possibility to increase the plane’s lethality could be to have a drone that flies alongside the sixth generation fighter as a faithful wingman drone, such as the XQ-58A Valkyrie.

Take advantage of electronic warfare

FA 35

So clearly, the list of what a successful 6th generation fighter might need to be a great power war winner is long. However, I see some paths to success.

Stealth technology is evolving and the radar-absorbing materials of the B-2 bomber are first-rate. DARPA is expected to take a leading role in improving these stealth techniques and by 2030, when the sixth generation fighter is ready (soon), there is enough time to work on new stealth technologies.

The F-35 already uses the AN / ASQ-239 electronic warfare suite. Expect this to improve over the next nine years. The AIM-260 tactical missile will gain improved range over time.

This year the Air Force revealed the concept art for the sixth generation fighter and the airframe looks bigger. The concept appears to have larger weapon housings. The engines will improve in the coming years. Controlling a herd drone is also doable.

Sixth generation stealth fighter: a $ 350 billion price per plane?

British RAF Tempest fighter plane

If all of this evolves according to plan, a sixth generation fighter is possible by 2030. However, there is a much greater challenge, all costs involved.

Research and development will be a killer for the government’s “checking account”. I would say that the R&D expenditure would be around $ 150 million per aircraft and the unit cost of $ 200 million. That’s $ 350 million a plane that’s taller than the overly expensive F-22.

At these prices, the Air Force should “scare” Congress into allocating this type of budget by constantly reminding lawmakers that China and Russia will develop their own sixth generation fighters over the next 10 years, and the US does not want to finish at the last minute. place.

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