Pentagon Unveils Program to Help Build 6th Generation Fighter

The Pentagon is poised to unveil a new collaborative research program in the upcoming 2016 defense budget submission.

The Pentagon is poised to unveil a new collaborative research program in the upcoming 2016 defense budget submission which will seek to identify and develop dominant, next-generation aircraft technologies for the Air Force and Navy.

Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer, mentioned the effort Wednesday to lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee at a hearing on Pentagon technology and acquisition reform.

The new research program will involve the Pentagon’s research arm, called the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency, or DARPA. It will focus on new airframe and engine technology for future jet fighters, cargo planes and unmanned systems. Among other topics, the research effort will work closely on what 6th-generation fighter aircraft technologies will be needed to build an aircraft to succeed the 5th-generation F-35.

Various new designs for Navy and Air Force airplanes will be identified as “X”-planes, a Pentagon term often used to signify a yet-to-be-named platform under early development.

The Navy is in the early conceptual stages of an effort called F/A-XX designed to replace the F-18 in the 2030s. Service officials have not said much about this effort, in part because it is so early and there is plenty of scrutiny on the fifth generation fighters.

“Smart skins” which connect the fuselage with computer technology, super cruise ability and hypersonic speeds are among some of the technical attributes deemed likely to inform future designs, analysts maintain.

Lt. Gen. Mark Ramsay director, force structure, resources and assessment for the Joint Staff, told HASC lawmakers the new effort involves air and space domain innovation initiatives.

“We’re looking at domains and how we are going to fight the future fight,” Ramsay told the committee.

When asked by a lawmaker, Ramsay said it would probably take about 15-years to develop a new, fully-developmental next-generation aircraft to replace the A-10 Warthog.

The rationale for the new effort hinges upon a much discussed global phenomenon – the pace of technological and military modernization of potential adversaries and near peer competitors such as China and Russia.  There may well be a need for the U.S. to develop and field a 6th generation fighter aircraft because both Russia and China are known to be developing stealth aircraft engineered potentially to challenge the F-35.

“We are at risk and things are getting worse. I came back to the Pentagon in 2010 after being away. The intelligence estimates when I left in 1994 were that China was really not much of a problem for us but in 10 or 15 years they could be based on their economic rate of growth. The intelligence estimates were correct,” Kendall told the committee.

Numerous Pentagon and Congressional reports have detailed public information regarding the rapid growth of China’s missile arsenal, naval fleet, ground army and anti-satellite technologies.

Kendall said the U.S. no longer enjoys the overwhelming technological superiority it had during and after the first Gulf War in 1991. As many remember, the first Gulf War featured the combat debut of some precision guided weapons just as Joint Direct Attack Munitions or JDAMs, some stealth technologies and other kinds of military innovations. This military superiority has lasted more than 25-years and has served the U.S. well in Iraq, Afghanistan, Serbia and Libya, Kendall explained in a written statement.

“I became alarmed as soon as I started seeing technical intelligence reports on China’s modernization programs. I could say the same of Russia’s modernization programs as well. We came out of the Cold War with a very dominant military. We demonstrated that military conclusively in the first Gulf War and we used it effectively against any conventional force since. Since 2001 we’ve been involved in counter insurgency,” Kendall said. “The precision-munitions revolution that we demonstrated has been emulated by others.”

In particular, Kendall explained how certain potential adversaries are deliberately developing systems and technologies designed to counter U.S. high-value assets such as satellites, air fields and aircraft carriers.

Potential adversaries such as China, Russia and Iran have studied U.S. military superiority and have been closing the gap, in part by fielding precision missiles able to threaten U.S. power projection capabilities.

For example, the Chinese military is developing a long-range anti-ship cruise missile, the DF-21D, said by analysts to have a range up to 900 nautical miles.  While there is some speculation as to whether it could succeed in striking moving targets such as aircraft carriers, analysts have said the weapon is in part designed to keep carriers from operating closer to the coastline.

“Some countries, China particularly, but also Russia and others, are clearly developing sophisticated weapons designed to defeat our power-projection forces. Even if war with the U.S. is unlikely or unintended, it is quite obvious to me that the foreign investments I see in military modernization have the objective of enabling the countries concerned to deter and defeat a regional intervention by the U.S. military,” said Kendall in a written statement to the committee.

The U.S. relies on high-value assets such as airfields, aircraft carriers and space-based satellites, for intelligence, targeting, communication and the ability to project power, Kendall said.  These assets could potentially be targeted by high-tech, long-range precision-guided ballistic and cruise missiles, Kendall explained.

Large numbers of accurate, technologically advanced missiles such as this could potentially get through the best of current U.S. air defense systems, Kendall said.

“We have been doing some things to try to address the problem. This is a serious problem for the country. It is not just missiles it is other things such as electronic warfare capability, anti-satellite capability – a number of things which I think that are being developed very consciously to defeat the American way of projecting power. We need to respond to that,” Kendall said.

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.
  • Dfens

    This is brilliant. First of all DARPA is going to issue a request for proposals, which is basically an invitation to lie. You don't have to lie, but you won't "win" a contract if you don't, and there's no penalty for lying if you do. Then they are going to issue the "winners" (liars) a "cost plus award fee" contract that doesn't make them drag out and jack up the cost of the research, but if they like money the incentive is certainly there, and, yet again, there are no penalties for dragging things out or jacking up costs, only rewards. Then DARPA is going to call all the research "promising" because they won't want to admit that they completely wasted your money lest they be fired, yet, once again, there are no penalties for lying. In fact, as in all the other phases of this madness, lying is expected. So rest confident, America. DARPA will save you. They are going to do business just like they always do, but this time you can expect a better result.

    • donbacon

      Not to worry — it will only take about 15-years to develop a new, fully-developmental next-generation aircraft to replace the A-10 Warthog, a wonderful system which the Pentagon can't afford now, but in 15 years…'s so confusing. I'm glad we have smart people in the Pentagon. –NOT

      • Dfens

        We always have money to develop the next great airplane, but never have enough money to pay the troops or provide them decent health care or to maintain their weapons or to train them. Guess who has the bigger lobby in Washington DC, the troops or the defense contractors?

    • Lobo

      And YOUR "expertise" on DARPA is based on what, exactly?

  • doctordave777

    I sincerely hope that our military has learned some lessons from the fiasco that has been the F-35 development project. … Dave

    • Dfens

      Oh yeah, they've learned their lesson. They'll do it right next time. The next program will be better. It always is.

    • sw614

      Well, given how we keep repeating the same mistakes, I seriously doubt things will be much better.

  • Gdadl

    This is crazy logic – first the F35 is supposed to replace the navy F18 and how about getting the F35 to even work before thinking about its successor and how about not stopping production on the F22 (the one plane that truly does work). It poor leadership that is going to kill us … and not the darn Chinese or Russians. Oh and how about actually stopping the Chinese from stealing our technology rather than being nice to them and pretending that’s it not happening

    • JJSchwartz

      Dead on! As soon as a pencil is applied to the drawing board of the next generation fighter the Chinese already have a copy of the plans. You can plan and plan and design and design but it doesn't do one bit of good if Chinese hackers have access to our technologies while they're still on the drawing board. I sure as heck hope that we put a stop to this technological bleeding before we invest untold billions.

      • ddh0101

        Why do they put these technology's on the web anyway they are supposed to be secrete right? Keep them of the net. That's not hard to figure out.

    • FormerDirtDart

      The F-35C is supposed to replace the A thru D models of the F/A-18. The Navy's conceptual 6th gen fighter is earmarked to replace the Superbugs (E/F)

      • Christopher

        Oddly enough the Navy wants the Super Hornet replacement to be an Air Superiority Fighter. Much like the F-14 it replaced. So second coming of the Tomcat?

      • Dfens

        More like a second chance for the F-23.

    • jffourquet

      The F-35 (as it is now) is beyond hope of ever working the way it was intended to. The only choices are a brand new design or complete re-design of the F-35 (such as what was done w/ the f-18e/f). What ever is done, the DoD and contractor have better tighten up cyber security. Take the computer off line so there is no way to access them remotely or develop secure systems that cannot be accessed remotely, and tighten up who gets access or a clearance to information.

      • Amicus Curiae

        The F-35 will indeed fulfill the hopes of some as it was intended to. It will cost more than double what they thought, but it will be a useful stealth bomb truck. Down side? demands so much in resources to get the thing to work, a lot of useful military equipment needs to be jettisoned. Additionally, since it is oversold as an air-to-air weapon, we will need to build something better anyway, or accept losing. For something that was supposed to reconstitute the air forces of the free world, this thing seems to do the opposite. It is sad but true.

    • ST Dog

      To wait that long would be a mistake. Research should be ongoing for 2 generations out.

      Maybe if it had the 5th gen wouldn't have so many issues.

      Other areas are looking way out. The current generation is being produced, the next gen is being developed, and one further is being researched with the real futurists exploring a generation (or more) beyond that.

    • brax

      You're correct. The Chinese and Russians are our friends. No need plan a 6th generation fighter as the Russians and Chinese are doing. Just because it'll take 15 years to get to a production phase, why bother?

    • mrsleep

      Yeah, the graft and corruption is what's killing us.
      People are more interested in lining their pockets than making sure our military has the tools it needs.

  • jon vonn

    Well it appears that the F-35 fulfilled it's purpose to be welfare, until the new plane comes along. The A-10 replacement will go to the army so the AF does not lose pilots.

    • Gdadl

      Not doing …. Stealing

  • OMG

    Uncertainty is very expensive.

  • Que

    “Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency, or DARPA.”

    The acronym would be DAPRA or perhaps the agency is named Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency aka DARPA.

    The author should proof read properly instead of being slack n idle.

  • jossie lawless

    so soon the F-35 production will be capped at 187 units so we can ramp up for the next big thing.

    • Dfens

      Damn straight. When you make more profit off of designing airplanes, why ever build one?

      • Amicus Curiae

        I would re-phrase your cynical comment. "When new careers are built off designing airplanes, why ever build one?" Remember, the actual designers/builders are not the beneficiaries of all the perks. It is a military/industrial/legislative complex. Basic human flaws are impossible to eliminate. (Think the seven deadly sins).

      • Dfens

        Capitalism is build around recognizing human flaws and exploiting them for the good of both the individual and the society. The only problem is, if the society can't pull their heads out of the collective asses enough to recognize when they've provided a company a financial incentive to fail, then capitalism can work to the good of the individual, but have a huge negative impact on the society. The system we have offers a company $1.00 reimbursement for for every dollar they spend in development of a new weapon, plus they get a profit (award fee) of $0.10 to $0.15 on every dollar they spend. It invites these defense contractors to spend themselves rich at the expense of our national defense. Also, since they make the same 10 to 15% profit during the lower risk design phase that they do in the higher risk production phase of their contract, there's little incentive for these companies to ever produce a weapon. It's not that hard of a concept, really.

      • jbiz

        15% profit? Now that is a very very low ball figure.

  • Spurlockda

    GDADL you are absolutely right. It is/are the politicians with all their special interest groups that are ruining us. The Flags – once they get there, will end up in some cushy defense contractor company or a shill consulting company for or with said defense contractors to entice the politicians to spend us into oblivion. Why do we have so many non-prior military people in civil service in charge of the procurement programs. And why does Congress tell the DOD to buy things they don't want or need. Because of politicians and special interest groups.

    Earlier I was reading about the dismal condition of or military pay, pension and health costs and how we had to cut that spending. Why do we never hear of the politicians, especially the prior Senior Officer politicians who are double and triple dipping cutting their pay, pension and health spending. And why are those civil service people sucking up all of the pay and pensions and why can't you fire them easily? Because of politicians and special interest groups.

    And contrary to what you may think, I don't have it in for politicians and their lackeys – I'm pointing out "overly generalized" FACTS! Prove beyond a reasonable doubt that I or a jury of my fellow 20 – 30 yr veterans are wrong!

    • brax

      Right on! Increasing pensions is the best strategy for protecting the US against a Chinese or Russian nuclear attack. No need for cushy updating of our 50 year old nuclear deterrent.

  • Joe

    The development window is all wrong. We need to go back and look at the "teen" fighters. 5-7 years is plenty of time to develop a fighter that you know how to make, or at least almost know how to make. 15-20 years is long enough to not really know where you are going when you start and therefore make gross errors in what will be possible (or not possible).

    • ST Dog

      That's because of the cost and budgeting issues. The people (in general) want aircraft to last for decades. So they have to be looking that far out.

      Imagine the uproar if the planes built today were replacing 7-10yr old aircraft, with a plan to replace them (the current ones) in another 10 years.

      • Dfens

        No one wants airplanes to last for decades. That's the undesired consequence of it taking 2 to 3 decades to develop new aircraft. And then once they are developed we cap production at 20. Who does that help?

      • ST Dog

        If they spend billions buying new aircraft today and then try to replace them in 10 years the general public will cry foul.

        As it is the public and congress keep crying foul now as we try to replace 30-40 year old designs.

        We've instead spent more making small upgrades ever 4-5 years with few (no?) major performance improvements.

      • Dfens

        See, that's the problem with you dang kids. You don't remember a time when they were rolling out new airplanes every few months. Believe me, no one had a problem with that. I'll tell you what, it was cool as hell to go to an airshow in those days. You certainly didn't see the same thing year after year like you do now.

      • ST Dog

        I'd love to go back to that.

        I preach simpler, lower cost, single purpose developments.
        By 100 each of a dozen different planes. You loose and one and that capability is diminished, but the other 11 roles are unaffected.

        But those in charge want multipurpose, do it all aircraft. Huge costs, ultra low production numbers, high maintenance costs, etc.
        So they buy 100 planes that don't do any of the dozen roles as well as a purpose built aircraft would. And you loose one and it;'s a huge hit to capability.

        They claim they want the most bang for the buck since congress and the general public want to reduce spending on new systems.

        Instead the get little bang for lots of bucks.

      • Dfens

        Back in the day we bought hundreds of airplane types by the thousands. People have become so conditioned to getting next to nothing for the billions of dollars spent. That's one of the ways these defense contractors win, they set your expectations lower and lower each year and with each passing program.

      • Joe

        If you want an aircraft to last for decades, just look at the teen fighters. The first retired (F-14) was in service over 30 years from IOC (with many of the actual airframes over 20). The other three will last longer. Build a robust, well designed, high performing airframe and don't try to leapfrog your avionics. Just accept that if you want a fighter to be in service for 30 years, there is no avionics you can even imagine today that will still be state of the art. Plan and budget for avionics block upgrades every 10 years.

    • KLP

      Those fighters are all advanced in their own right and at their adoption, but their avionics suites were designed around the airframe with upgrades coming online over the years, whereas with the F22 and the F35, the avionics and electronics are supposed extend the jet's performance beyond their physical performance (like the problematic helmet display) which is the part that's taking forever. If the airframe were the main developmental hurdle, we would have had a functional F-35 a decade ago. The X35 with the lift fan was flying in 2001!

      Not to defend Lockheed's lagging around, but the situation is different and it's important to remember that the F35's vision was far looking and highly ambitious… and I believe it's still beyond our capabilities because what we have is an overpriced and underperforming (by reports) sort-of-strike fighter.

      Looking forward, with the emphasis on data fusion and vertical command/com integration, I have a feeling the 6th gen fighters will reuse software (if the contract goes to LM) or license the software (for Boeing or some other potential competitor) and short cut some of the developmental hurdles. In my opinion, a true 5th gen fighter, because the Lightning II to me seems like an extended X-35 developmental program.

      • Dfens

        You can believe the MIC BS if you want to, but I've worked on these damn airplanes and it's not all that challenging. Yes, my colleagues and I all have giant brains, but it really doesn't take a giant brain to figure out that what's going on with these current day airplane programs is f'ed up.

      • Joe

        KLP, you are partly correct, and the current design philosophy is completely wrong. If you go back and look at the teen fighters, the shortest service life was the F-14, which was over 30 years. All the other teen fighters will be well over 40 before they leave service. The idea that you can build a fighter airframe that will be relevant for 30-40 years is pretty reasonable. The idea that you can build an avionics suite to last 30-40 years is beyond stupid. Call it insane, delusional, moronic, whatever you like. We need to get back to building a robust airframe that can be counted on for decades of service, and installing the latest generation of current avionics. We need to limit ourselves to pushing the limits of what we know how to do without pushing too far into what we don't know how to do. When you try to build an avionics suite that is 10 or 20 years ahead of it's time, it takes 10-20 years to develop.

  • G-dawg

    Hopefully they'll design the thing first, instead of the "design as you go" approach they took with the F-35.

    • ST Dog

      That's in large part due to how the government handles acquisition. Every year or two the funding gets changed. I suggest you look into the actual rules governing it.

      At the same time the requirements change. The requirements laid out at the start change drastically over the years. So they are constantly redesigning for the new requirements.

      • Dfens

        The requirements don't change all that drastically. That's just part of the contractor line of BS. The "design as you go" approach is there to lower contractor risk if they do have to actually build airplanes. It allows them to ramp up slowly putting the bulk of the production risk in the higher profit development portion of the contract.

  • Old 391

    If I was the Army or Marine Chief of Staff, one of the first things I would want is a fly off between the F-35 and the A-10 in a combat CAS mission to see which aircraft I wanted protecting my ground troops

    • joe

      Actually, I'm not sure the AF wants the CAS mission. They just don't want the Army to take it!

      • Dfens

        Plus the fly off didn't help them pick the right airplane between the F-22 and F-23. Then they classified all the performance data so you'd never know. Well, maybe if the Navy is smart enough to pick the F-23 as their new F-18 replacement fighter you'll get some idea. It would be nice to see the Navy kicking the Air Force's ass in their little reindeer games once again. It's been a long time since that happened. Something about never getting the right engines developed for the F-14, then picking the wrong ATF airplane to prototype for NATF, then getting saddled with that damn F-18 E/F. Bad decision after bad decision. Maybe they can break the string.

      • JohnD

        The US military needs to scrap the Key West Agreement of 1947 and just give the CAS missions and aircraft to the US Army. Apparently, the USAF does not know what CAS is all about, has no care about what CAS was all about, and if push came to shove would scrap all the CAS aircraft so they could get their pretty 'gee-whiz zip-bang zoom' toys. The USAF leadership probably think the best role for the US Army would be guarding Air Force bases and polishing their aircraft.

      • Dfens

        Or, maybe we should have a constitutional convention and put a charter for the existence of the Air Force into the constitution as would be appropriate. At that time we could have a rational discussion of the roles of the various branches of the military as the founding fathers intended.

    • Walt Eife AT1 Ret

      HAnd the A-10 over to Poland .They will need it pretty soon..

  • PolicyWonk

    Kendall said the U.S. no longer enjoys the overwhelming technological superiority it had during and after the first Gulf War in 1991.
    This is because we were stupid – and practically GAVE it away!

    Years ago, the editors of Proceedings, Aviation Week, et al, all banded together and wrote an editorial imploring the Reagan administration to restore funding to education, PELL grants, and student loans which they cut drastically. Their reasoning was simple: if we don't keep up with education, we cannot train the engineers of tomorrow; the defense industry would be forced to go outside to find engineering talent; and the Federal government would find out national security compromised.

    We are now living with the results of that horribly short-sighted "education policy".

    As if that wasn't bad enough, Patrick Buchanan implored the administration of G W Bush, to cease encouraging US companies to move operations to Communist China – especially those who manufactured the dual-use technologies the Chinese are using today to fuel their massive military build-up (10's of thousands of dual use technologies were simply given away, along with 8M+ US jobs, and the manufacturing base/know-how).

    The migration was so bad in total, that the US National Intelligence Estimate (the combined opinions of all 16 US Intelligence Agencies) declared this massive transfer of the strategic US manufacturing base a "massive, national security disaster". Not only for the USA, but also for our allies and every other nation in the region.

    And we'll be living with the unfortunate consequences of those ill-chosen policies for many decades to come.

    Of all the major events that took place to destroy US technical supremacy and compromise our national security: These were by far the worst for the long run.

    • ST Dog

      Plenty of good engineers here. Lack of federal funding for education is not the problem.

      And the US didn't encourage the move out of the US as much as it discouraged staying here.

      • Dfens

        For that matter there are too many good engineers here. Engineering salaries have been flat to declining for the last 2 decades. Here I go again spouting those old principles of capitalism, but when I took economics, when there was a shortage of a particular skill, the salaries rose and that attracted new people to the field. You know, that old "supply and demand" crap we used to believe before we became so enlightened (

    • Steven

      You can't train engineers when foreign professors control who gets into US grad schools. Ever take a look at engineering classes at the graduate level and beyond?

      • Dfens

        Yes, I know of foreign professors at engineering schools who make no bones about the fact that they only take grad students from their own country. The worst example is a Chinese professor who does that, and he's never had to face any repercussions for his policies.

    • retiredmilitary

      This is the result of putting skull and bones radicals in the whitehouse that support the NWO and the radicals in our govt that we are now fighting against to preserve out nation. Our political process has been hijacked by the racist hate filled lunatics that populate the communist corrider from Maryland to Canada. We are in a fight for our very existence from those in the NWO and the Islamic terrorists that have invaded the govt.

      • Brian B. Mulholland

        I'll limit myself to describing this post as bizarre and lacking in basic rationality. "Communist corridor from Maryland to Canada," "Islamic terrorists who have invaded the government." Why not add that the President is a secret agent of the Klingon Empire, while you're at it?

        I suggest a somewhat simpler, and less exciting explanation, and the secret influence of the Illuminati and the Masons in the New World Order has nothing to do with it. The decisionmaking involved in American weapons procurement is driven primarily by institutional interests to which the timely production of functioning weapons is largely irrelevant. If I had to pick an initial failure point here, it would be the decision to stuff V/STOVL capacity into a multiservice airframe, and indulge the USMC's worries that they'll invade Guadalcanal aagain, and Admiral Fletcher will be too protective of his carriers. (No doubt everyone knows whom it is that I paraphrase.) Things have gone from bad to worse because LM grossly overstated what they could deliver and when they could deliver it. They have every incentive to do so, and no incentive not to do so (in the civilian community this is called "lying.") The Pentagon's concern is that Congress doesn't get the idea that perhaps there were alternatives, and thereby put the appropriations at risk. It's public knowledge that requirements for transonic acceleration have been reduced to help out the company ( not because acceleration is suddenly irrelevant to air/air combat.) I wonder what requirements for sensor integration are being reduced on the q.v., or simply ignored. IOC keeps receding into the distance, and the very notion of what constitutes IOC is getting watered down.

        I think the original decision to make this a tri-service, V/STOVL fighter/attack aircraft goes back to the DefSec under Jimmy Carter, name forgotten at the moment.

  • AJF

    6th Gen is what will replace the F-35 A/C (5th Gen) … FA-XX is being studied right now to determine what is needed to replace the capabilities lost when the FA-18 E/F (4th Gen) start to reach their service life limits; FA-XX will be a 5th gen workhorse at best, and … may or not be a new airframe, material solutions are all still TBD.

    Mr. Kendall's reasoning is sound, the "talent" pool working on JSF will scatter without relevant work; keeping them gainfully employed will yield appropriate improvements to later blocks of JSF and also provide a framework for the JSF replacement.

    • Haggar

      The 'talent pool' working on the JSF is so shallow that you wouldn't even get your ankles wet wading through it. If they want to 'scatter', let 'em go for it.

      • AJF

        Fair comment, tough problem.

      • oblatt22

        The big danger is that the thousands of incompetents working for the F-35 scatter and infect other engineering industries.

      • Dfens

        It's not really "thousands of incompetents". Mostly it's just incompetents in key places. From the sample of people I know on F-35 it is pretty much like F-22, it attracts a lot of really smart kids out of college who are managed by abject idiots.

      • oblatt22

        The abject idiots were smart kids once too. The rule of thumb is that after 7 years in a military contractor you are negatively productive in a commercial firm.


    A lot of excellent comments but, a big but…Ike's defense/industrial complex will win. Why design a 6th generation when the 5th generation is still years away from full operation. Enough with all this China debate…it is like closing the barn door after the houses have left. Bottom line they have waited 5000 years and are on the rise.
    And we, like idiots, compound the problem(s), by continuing a dialogue with them. The Peoples Republic's new hardware, Destroyers, 5th generation fighters, etc. look like our own Burke destroyers and F35 fighters. How so enlighted one. Me no understand, speak pigeon, speak out of side of mouth, and likeie, seeie. solution – restrict Chinese students from studying in US, stop buying from them, buy USA made even if it cost more and requires opening production lines long closed and stop the PC and understand the bottom like that they wants us gone or reduced to a small time player. Five thousand years is a minute in their minds. The only dialogue they understand is power both military and economic. Wake up or you'll need chop sticks at the board meeting. MMCS(SW)(SS) USN Ret.

    • ST Dog

      Not design, start the research efforts so that it can be designed.

    • T.S.

      I agree, as long as we continue to build/buy our countries products in China, they will continue to steal/reverse engineer our ideas. We need to bring back jobs & manufacturing to our country and keep our stuff here..

    • Dfens

      Tariffs anyone? China is one of our "most favored nation" trading partners? Repeal the 16th amendment and make the federal government live off of tariffs once again (as the founding fathers intended) and I bet their attitude toward tariffs would improve immensely.

  • Small and unmanned.

  • moebius22

    What is the Pentagon going to do differently this time to avoid the disaster that was the F-22 and F-35 program?

    • Goose

      I wouldn't classify F-22 was a disaster, although it was pricey. But if the 6th gen fighter will have 'smart skins' which connect the fuselage with computer technology, LO, super cruise ability, and hypersonic speeds, then it's a foregone conclusion it will be pricey as well. But as long as they don't try to make the same airframe also accommodate a STOVL capability and a carrier landing capability, they won't have to deal with the same design compromises that have handicapped F-35 performance.

      • Gdadl

        The F22 was a huge success that exceeded all of its design goals. Yes it was very very expensive but that was the projected cost when it was approved. The F35 is a different story and is underperforming in many areas.

      • Dfens

        It was a huge success for Lockheed.

    • Raptor1

      moebius22: You don't have a CLUE, not even a shred, if you consider the F-22 a disaster. It does everything it was designed to do, and MORE! The real disaster is this failed administration canceling it due to "cost", without telling everyone that cancelling it is the REASON for its "high cost!" Obviously, you fell for it too.
      The F-22 is THE greatest air superiority aircraft ever produced, bar NONE!… The last one off the line, complete with SDB and JDAM integration it was never originally intended to carry, cost $137Mil; With capabilities increasing, and costs falling, only complete IDIOTS would say it's "too expensive" when only 1/4 to 1/3 the original amount were ordered. No more should NEED to be said. But for those that disagree, what do they think the per-unit cost of our current 100+ F-35s would be if we stopped production at 187?… I'll do the math for em (and you), it's > $1BILLION / aircraft!… Americans can't even take the time to do simple math for themselves; they need "leaders" to do it INcorrectly FOR them, and then continue towing the BS line for the self-righteous; that's the current state of affairs in America… Pathetic!
      Thank goodness the F-15 were produced in decent numbers, or we wouldn't have the air superiority our "leaders" can't even acknowledge the origins of.
      If you consider the F-22 a disaster, then all hope is lost for you.

  • Thinking_ExUSAF

    The problem is that we have a "system" that is as invested in funding program offices and bureaucracies as it is invested in putting state of the art weapon systems in the hands of our war-fighters. We are also caught on the horns of maintaining technological capability and competency. The challenge is to maintain the capability and technology AND research and development without simply evolving into a white collar welfare acquisition system enamored with "high tech" and disinterested in the actual needs of the fighting forces.

    The sorriest thing is that all too often the "countermeasures" to our high technologies are technically simple, cheap, quickly fielded and quite effective. Did I say "GPS"?

    • Dfens

      Airplanes don't only navigate by GPS. It's hard to mess with a ring laser gyro.

      • Thinking_ExUSAF

        Aircraft navigation is only part of GPS. Think of the time synchronization factor, weapon guidance, etc.

        Also the existence of GPS (and other high tech toys) creates an attitude. Do we teach celestial nav these days or is working a sextant and celestial nav tables just a quaint anachronism since we have GPS? How much emphasis is given to using maps and compasses for land nav, after all we have GPS, until we don't!

        If a given military capability is sufficiently important to us, an enemy can justify great expense to deny us this capability. If its cheap and easy to counter, in spite of whatever salesmanship was just to justify its development and deployment, so much the better for our enemy.

      • Dfens

        Celestial navigation was always pretty sporty at best. From my perspective designing airplanes it seems like we put a lot of work into flight management systems that never use a single source for guidance. Certainly terrestrial navigation radio sources are a lot more resistant to jamming than GPS, and the inertial navigation systems we have these days are far more robust than the mechanical gyros of years ago. I can see where it might seem as if we got GPS and threw everything else out the window, but in reality there have been a lot of technological advancements that have been made in parallel with the arrival of GPS. Of course, I'm not entirely sure why we totally abandoned automatic stellar navigation systems. I worked on a rocket back in the day that would do a star shot then roll a certain number of degrees and do a 2nd shot. The system was a little flaky back then but should be easy enough to do now.

  • Lance

    Well its a wait and see.5h Gen aircraft where a let down from 4th Gen. I want to see more than just stealth. I like to see planes faster, higher ceiling, more payload than both 4th and 5th gen fighters to warrant a new gen of planes.

    • Dfens

      If they F-23 had won the ATF competition you'd have seen a big step forward in 5th generation capabilities. Since then you've lived though the demise of the airplane designer, at least in military aviation. The airplanes you get now are the best you're going to get from the "design by committee" approach.

    • Another Guest

      I totally agree with you. I like to see aircraft with faster acceleration, higher altitude ceiling and more weapons load and two engines. Indeed we want to see more than just a boondoggle stealth.

  • jffourquet

    Will this program be as badly mismanaged as the f-35? I hope not. If it is it will be the last US made fighter produced. We cannot afford any more screw ups. DoD needs to get this one right.

  • Yuppers

    When the AF realized the F-35 wasn't going to be able to meet their requirements they simply lowered the requirements. But on the positive side I'm sure some general now has a guaranteed job after he retires with one of the defense contractors working on the JSF.

    • William_C1

      What requirements are these?

      • Sherwood Scwartz

        Weight growth capability (useful for upgrades), sortie generation rate, combat radius, fuel capacity, and classified capabilities. JSF has had two major changes to its original ORD. Blocks 1 – 3 capabilities have been deferred to Block 4 (the first post SDD block).

      • Thinking_ExUSAF

        So much for the naive concept that the original ORD actually represented the minimum performance required for operational suitability.

  • Gary

    Next generation airframes will exploit the key factors of flight: speed and maneuverability. Technology will refine the stealth design and improve composite materials to reduce construction costs and extend service life. Its nearly impossible to imagine what a resilient electronics suite will look like in 15 years, but it will likely be networked to a shore-based combat system so that the pilot(s) will have less information overload in the cockpit. Lance mentioned faster and higher ceiling, but I would say that won't be as important if the stealth design is right. Low level, precision CAS will be the critical mission to protect our own on the battlefield. At the same time, it is critical to collaborate aircraft design with the development of a 6th gen payload / munitions package.

    • ST Dog

      In 2001 very, very few even dreamed of devices like the smart phone we have today.
      Go back and find tech article discussing new designs and see where the industry was heading.

      So trace it back to Jobs in '83, but really that was more about a tablet computer than a phone. It wasn't until 2003 that the smart phone concepts and development began.

      So thoughts about a 6th gen fighters now are like the guys in 2001 trying to predict the smartphones of today.

      No one knows what the visionary thinkers will come up with and implement in the 2 years, never mind what state of the art will be in 10 or 15.

      But, we darn sure better have people with vision thinking up those ideas and other trying to figure out how to use it in a fighter.

      • Dfens

        Smart phones, developed by private funds rather than on a "cost plus award fee" contract. Coincidence? I think not.

    • Another Guest


      I agree with Lance's view point that the F/A-XX needs be faster, higher altitude ceiling, more agile, more payload and longer range, which is very important than just pure stealth.

      Stealth can already be detected by long (low band) wave VHF/UHF radar only problem is precise location which is already slowly been resolved computerised signal processing and integrations of other radar wavelengths for search and location and targeting. Given how much stealth cost the fact that it isn't going to actually be low observable for the bands in which they are now building radars means you are just wasting money. Look at the cost per flight hour for stealth aircraft vs. non-stealth. Those coatings don't maintain themselves. While the B-2 is notoriously bad the F-117 and F-22 were not all that much better.

      Another thing is that pilots don't get enough flight hours in the real aircraft to refine their skills. Due to the fact stealth aircraft are "hanger queens" in the maintenance shop spending a lot time around 100 hours on ground applying RAM coatings.

      Single engine really needs to be ruled out for the F/A-XX. Why? Because Single engine aircraft are designed on the basis that they are semi disposable. Unless you are short distance from the suitable runway you are going to eject and destroy the plane in the event of an engine failure. In the ocean or the artic that is not all that comforting of an idea, or many other places for that matter. If you assume the probability of failure of one engine is 1 to 100, then the probability of both engines failing at the same time (due to non-common systems) is 1/100th of that again or 1 to 10,000. I’ll take the 1 to 10,000 odds any day
      over the other.

      So the new modern engine is never going to fail? Of course it will fail one way or another and single engine just doesn't cut the mustard.

      "Reliability of modern engines in production proves the point".

      Well yes in some degree that modern engines are very reliable, but bare in mind the loss of the engine overwater or artic guarantees the loss of the one engine and also requires that the search and rescue assets commit to support any operational deployment of single engine fighter.

    • Another Guest


      We really need to design a really sensible set of "real" aeroplanes with real turning and burning etc, not something that is based on science fiction junk.

    • Another Guest


      We also need to bring back single role platforms and avoid multi-mission types which they become too complicated and too compromise.

    • Another Guest


      Another problem with stealth aircraft is the cost per flight hour is extremely expensive. You'll talking about somewhere between $35,000 – $40,000 or higher.

    • Thinking_ExUSAF


      Sorry to say that "stealth" is the politically correct panacea from one iteration ago. Todays end all of everything is to say "unmanned". LOL!

      Stealth is just one of many characteristics that must be considered in today's fighter aircraft design. Speed and range are important, maneuverability is important, payload is important, sensor and networking technology is important. Blind yourself to all but the stealthiness and you have an invisible but useless platform.

      Also, consider your own statement that "Low level, precision CAS will be the critical mission. . ." Consider how to apply stealth to this mission and you will quickly see the difficulties.

  • barney rubble

    Can this waste of tax payer dollars before it starts

  • ken

    The irony is the A-10 is waging battle against ISIS while our F-35 is not mission capable, and we have folks smoking ganja to build a replacement for the F-35. By the way price is very flexible.

  • Dr. Malcolm Davis

    The development time is way too long, and I have a bad feeling this will end up as 'F-35 – the Next Generation'. The goal should be to cut development time and cost down to produce a new aircraft more rapidly, and cheaper, and which still delivers required operational capability. There is also a risk that they will do with the Sixth Gen what they have done with the F-35 – 'jack of all trades, master of none'. Let the Sixth Gen be a dedicated air superiority fighter, and make a second aircraft that is a dedicated ground attack aircraft.

    In the meantime, as the Chinese perfect J-20 and FC-31, and the Russians develop PAK-FA and deploy Su-35, I'm sure both Beijing and Moscow are already thinking about how they can deploy these aircraft quickly and then work on their replacements such that by the time the US Sixth Gen platform arrives late in the early 2040s, the Chinese and the Russians already have fifth gen and sixth gen fighters operationally deployed in significant numbers and are in advanced stages of developing a seventh gen. If they can catch up in combat aircraft capabilities, and also in UCAVs, then the US is in big, big trouble.

    • William_C1

      What's your idea for such a dedicated ground attack aircraft? Ground attack is a very broad definition, one that sometimes favors a high performance aircraft with a strong self-defense capability while other times a simpler subsonic aircraft with long loiter times is preferable.

      • Thinking_ExUSAF

        I think that you unnecessarily narrowed the spectrum for a ground attack aircraft. Please include a mission similar to a B-52 with JDAMs, an A-10 with its gun, an AH-1Z, or an F-117. All of these aircraft "move mud" in one way or another. To expect a single airframe to perform all of these missions under the guise of being a "ground attack" aircraft means that there will be some compromises, and I would claim, severe compromises in the capabilities. If you want to get in "danger close", shoot up tanks, fire Maverick-type direct attack missiles, and shoot it out with Manpads, frontal SAMs and AAA. . . . . bet it starts looking like an A-10 or an Apache.

    • Thinking_ExUSAF

      I happen to agree with your assessment that the development cycle is too long. The HUD display technologies, for which I was a tester (actually test subject in the centrifuge) when I was a 2LT (1977) are just now appearing in the F-22, F/A-18E and F-35!

      The challenge is not often just identifying the problem, its implementing a solution. What, sir, is your solution to avoid the obvious "big, big trouble"?

    • Joe

      Hurray, you have it partly correct. The emphasis should be on reducing development timeline down to about 5-7 years, comparable to the "teen" fighters, and building a robust airframe that will last through several cycles of avionics improvements. It's a lot easier to build an airframe that will last for years than to try to look into a crystal ball and predict where avionics will advance. You will never get 10 years ahead of that so why try? Install the latest current generation technology and be prepared for minor (software) upgrades every couple years and major (hardware) upgrades every 10. I will disagree with your comments about multi-role fighters however. I've flown both dedicated mission aircraft and multi-role aircraft. The avionics today make that a very blurry line and there is really no reason to try to split them apart.

  • Muttling

    The Soviets didn't fall as a result of war, they collapsed from overspending. We are well on our way to the same collapse and thoughts such as these are driving us to it. Keep our national defense up to date YES………correct every other country's problems with military force…NO.

    • Technically it was overspending due to a war in Afghanistan that had little purpose beyond border expansion which they could not and did not win….Hey where'd that $1 trillion + dollars go? It was right here in 2000……

      • Brian B. Mulholland

        You think that the fall in the price of oil that was ongoing at the time the Soviet Union collapsed might have had something to do with it?

  • BCL1

    Why are we wasting all these tax dollars projecting power when we are so bad at projecting power? Sorry, but war just isn't as cost effective as it used to be. We spend precious tax dollars and borrow, but there is no return on the investment. We would be better off using the money to develop nuclear power generation via thorium fuel and developing and electric and hydrogen based economy — all domestically produced energy — and then avoid getting into conflicts that have no benefit to the taxpayer.

    • Dfens

      Only problem is, I don't see Islamic terrorism going away any time soon, and if kissing their asses was a solution then France would be a lot safer than it is right now.

    • Dfens

      I agree about the nuclear power thing, though.

  • Leo Gerald Johnson

    This is one of the reason's why they want to cut the benefita of military they can buy some more war making weapon's.but who is going to fly these craft if there is no one there to fly them.Darpa's dummies robot's?

  • JRT

    The above article incorrectly states that, "…the Chinese military is developing a long-range anti-ship cruise missile, the DF-21D…"

    DF-21D is a ballistic missile, not a cruise missile, very different.

  • Ed Schofield

    Before anything else, we must come to grips with the fact that developing the next greatest technological wonder weapon in order to stay ahead of our enemies is a losing cause as long as we allow our high tech gains to be stolen by the Chinese and Russians as fast as we come up with them. The Chinese have their own version of our F-35, but their cost was a tiny fraction of ours because they just stole the plans, lock-stock-and-barrel, from our contractors. Their development costs are no more than the cost of hacking into our contractors to steal the plans. It makes no sense to think we can jump ahead of them technologically until we find a way to protect our technological developments from their hackers.

  • dwisehart

    The F-35 and F-22 should be the last fighters with pilots on board we ever build. They are already so expensive they are the high asset value (HAV) targets that fighters have typically been called on to protect. It makes no sense to create a fighter that–based on the cost growth from the F-18 and the F-16 to the F-35 and F-22–costs a billion dollars per fighter. Who would call in a billion dollar aircraft to do ground support?

    Instead, build really good, really inexpensive UAV's to do the front line fighting and protect the HAV aircraft with pilots in them.

    • Another Guest

      dwisehart ,

      "Instead, build really good, really inexpensive UAV's to do the front line fighting and protect the HAV aircraft with pilots in them".

      Unfortunately not good idea. Pilots have been skeptical of unmanned fighters, such as the UCAS-D/N-UCAS/UCLASS program.

    • Joe

      So, because we did a bad job building our latest generation fighters, we should go on to build something else. Because we won't make the same mistakes if it's unmanned? Any UAV that can do what manned fighters can do will cost more than manned fighters. The cockpit isn't what makes the jet expensive. A PC-9 has two ejection seats and costs about $6 million. A Reaper has zero and costs about $14 mil. If you want something that's big (so it can carry a powerful RADAR, lots of missiles and bombs etc.) and fast, and… Well, you get the point (maybe).

      • Another Guest


        "So, because we did a bad job building our latest generation fighters".

        Well particularly for the boondoggle F-35 yes.

      • Another Guest


        Also we did a bad job for bringing up stealth technology. Stealth is all based on a lie.

        For more information here is the link Joe.

      • Joe

        Nothing new there. You are not going to need to convince me that stealth is oversold. That being said, more stealthy is better than less, but how much you want to pay and what you are willing to trade is really the question. A little stealthy forces the adversary to react. He has to buy different radars, position them differently etc. which gives you room to maneuver. But I'm not going to give up speed, range, payload. The only thing overhyped more than stealth is "unmanned" which is also based on a lie. The only thing that makes Predator's and Reaper's cheap (which they are not) is that they are single engine prop planes with performance comparable to a Cessna. In almost any imaginable scenario a Combat Caravan would be cheaper to build and operate. Yes, they give you persistence that would be difficult if it was manned, but that's really it.

      • Another Guest


        Yes it's nothing new here. But I'll convince anyone that stealth is overrated and oversold. Non-stealth platforms is better than less.

        I also agree that unmanned platforms is all based on a lie.

  • retired462

    Bypass the 5th generation F-35, and go straight to the 6th generation, and hope they do a better design job, and look at someone else to build it (if any aircraft manufacturers are left in the good old USA). We only built 187 F-22's, so taking a big loss on F-35's that have already been ordered would not be a problem. Upgrade F-18's, F-15's, and F-16's will hold us over. The F-35 is useless unless you carry external stores, and then stealth is gone. At the same time we could upgrade the A-10.

    • Another Guest

      @ retired462,

      Col Michael W. Pietrucha, USAF, wrote a 24 page article in Air and Space Power Journal, "The Comanche and the Albatross: About Our Neck Was Hung". He has got a good point why the F-35 must be cancelled now.

      The F-35 is based on a belief that radar low observability will remain effective against future air defence threats. Although true for the F-117 against Iraq’s Kari system in 1991, stealthiness is unlikely to remain so against an adversary that has two decades to prepare for US stealth fighters, which have much higher infrared, visual, and emitter signatures than did the F-117.

      Outside China and Russia, no massive threat from an advanced integrated air defence system exists. Moreover, China is a poor example of a threat to cite if someone is trying to justify a short-ranged fighter with limited payload flown from island bases within range of overwhelming missile attack. Losses of US aircraft have mainly been helicopters since the Vietnam war and fixed wing losses were not shot down.

      Only Russia and China can pose the kind of anti-access, area denial (A2AD) environment that justifies a massive investment in stealth.

      These facts make the risk calculation involved with prioritising stealth over performance, range, and weapons loadout inherently suspect—and the F-35 might well be the first modern fighter to have substantially less performance than its predecessors.

      Col Michael W. Pietrucha's Proposal.

      • Maintain a limited number of F-35As (those already purchased) as a replacement for the capabilities lost upon retirement of the F-117; (To me the limited number of F-35As need to be sent to AMARC and to be recycled)

      • Create a modernised Tactical Air Force fleet consisting of a high-low mix of modernised legacy fighters, light attack aircraft, and multi-purpose jet trainer / attack aircraft;

      • Recover some “sunk cost” of the F-35 program by using advanced systems to modernise older fighters, in effect fielding fifth-generation systems in fourth-generation airframes;

      • Restore the Air Force’s SEAD/EW (Suppression of Enemy Air. Defences – Electronic warfare) fighters and crews;

      • Expand the service’s global reach capabilities by providing deployable Tactical Air Force assets that can operate from short, rough airstrips on a logistical shoestring

      • Increase the number of absorbable cockpits to the point where the Air Force can augment the inventory of fighter/attack aviators to meet requirements;

      • Invest in affordable, exportable “light combat aircraft” derived from Air Education and Training Command’s T-X program;

      • Allow the Air Guard to maintain its position as the operational reserve and “relief valve” for experienced fighter/attack aviators while recapitalizing its portion of the CAF; and

      • Build a Tactical Air force that can meet the nation’s demands for air-power capabilities even in the face of increasing fuel costs and decreasing budget.

      • Dfens

        Hell, let's just arm our soldiers with swords. Anything new we give them will just be countered by some new technology.

  • B.A.Dilger

    From Wikipedia:

    In November 2014 China unveiled the portable JY-26 Skywatch-U UHF 3-D long-range surveillance radar system, specifically designed to defeat stealth aircraft like the F-35.[192] Responding to a reporters question about the High-Frequency radar threat General Welsh said “while we may have a new radar developed that allows an acquisition radar to see an airplane, that doesn’t mean you can pass the track off to a radar that will then guide a weapon to be able to destroy the airplane. As long as we break the kill chain sometime between when you arrive in the battle space and when the enemy weapon approaches your airplane, you’re successful at using stealth.”

    • Another Guest


      But I'll convince anyone that stealth is overrated and oversold. Stealth is all based on a lie.

      For more information here is the link.

    • Another Guest


      Don't take any notice what Gen. Mark Welsh parochial point of view. He's statement is based on false assumptions.

  • Brian B. Mulholland

    Within the past few weeks, we've had a statement from a serving Admiral to the effect that the Navy's next fighter need not be stealthy. Clearly the AF disagrees. I have no opinion on this whatsoever, but the notion that each service will have the money to develop its' own A/A and multipurpose airframe is fantasy. If we get ONE next generation fighter for both services, we can be relatively happy.

    As far as the F-23 goes, I assume it's as suitable for a smart skin, etc., as any other airframe. But is the aircraft's weight within the load that can be launched by EMALS? Airframes tend to gain weight during development, not lose it. And please, please let us not give LM the contract. Boeing and NG may be no better, but development can hardly be worse than what we've got here in the F-35.