Thursday, February 5, 2015

Next Generation Fighter

CNO Greenert and RAdm. Winter, speaking at the Naval Future Force Science and Technology Expo, have provided a glimpse at the desired characteristics of the next generation fighter (1).

“Greenert said it must have manned and unmanned capabilities and carry a spectrum of weapons. Stealth and speed are not top priorities; in fact, ‘stealth may be overrated,’ he said.”

“The fighter must have full spectrum dominance, autonomous sensor and payload integration and next-generation advanced propulsion, Winter [Rear Adm. Mat Winter, the Navy's new chief of naval research] said. What is that? ‘We will let you know when we get it,’ he said."

That’s absolutely fascinating.  So, here’s the list of requirements, as they described them.

  • Manned and unmanned
  • Full spectrum dominance
  • Autonomous sensor and payload integration
  • Next-generation advanced propulsion
  • Speed and stealth

Optionally Manned.  Frankly, I don’t get this one.  The concept of an unmanned aircraft is that it will be cheaper (that’s a highly debatable assumption that I think is false), somewhat simpler, and dedicated to long endurance or very high risk missions.  Making an aircraft that is optionally manned guarantees the full cost of a manned aircraft plus the added cost of the unmanned requirements (probably not much of an incremental cost, to be fair). 

While the ability to take the pilot out of the cockpit for extremely hazardous missions would be nice in theory, I really can’t see risking our absolute top of the line next generation fighter on the kind of suicidal missions that would warrant unmanned aircraft.  That’s what a simpler, cheaper, more expendable unmanned aircraft would be for.

Full Spectrum Dominance.  I assume full spectrum dominance refers to electronic warfare (EW) and represents a desire to move away from dedicated EW aircraft such as the Prowler/Growler and towards each aircraft providing its own EW support.  In concept, this is wonderful.  It addresses two issues related to dedicated EW aircraft:

Availability – there are very few EW aircraft in the inventory and there never seem to be enough when needed and where needed.  If EW is integrated into the fighter, we will have an unlimited number of EW aircraft (well, limited to the number of fighter aircraft) and they will always be on scene whenever a fighter is on scene.

Cost Effectiveness – EW aircraft are not only expensive in their own right but each EW aircraft represents one less fighter from a zero-sum budget perspective.  Combining the EW function with the fighter function would be highly cost effective.  Essentially, the EW electronics are the only thing that need to be paid for – the airframe is free in the sense that fighter airframe will exist anyway.  One airframe, two functions – that’s a great concept.

I also assume that full spectrum dominance goes beyond the traditional electronic warfare realm and includes cyber and communications warfare capability as well as intel and surveillance functions.  A full spectrum aircraft will be a mini-AWACS, mini-Reaper, mini-JSTARS, and, well, mini-everything.

Autonomous Sensor and Payload Integration.  I’m not quite sure what this refers to.  I assume it encompasses the F-35 360 degree sensor fusion concept as a baseline.  I further assume it goes well beyond that to include the ability to interface with any sensor on any platform, anywhere, and to seamlessly interface those sensors with the aircraft’s weapons. 

I also assume the autonomous portion of this requirement refers to the stated desire for an optionally manned aircraft.  When the aircraft is operating in unmanned mode, the control software will be able to select and use any appropriate sensor to best utilize any available weapon.

Advanced Propulsion.  I really have no idea what this is referring to.  My best guess is that it involves the Air Force’s adaptive jet engine technology efforts which are an attempt to produce a single engine that can operate in multiple modes such as high speed, high efficiency, or high endurance.  Wouldn’t it be great to have a single engine that can provide enormous range or high fuel efficiency or high speed, as desired? 

Speed and Stealth.  I find it fascinating that Greenert specifically addresses speed and stealth in the negative, in a sense.  It’s not surprising given his previous statements about stealth but to see it “codified” as a lesser requirement is, frankly, stunning given our obsession with stealth over the last few decades and the incredibly high value placed on the F-35’s stealth as the means to allow it to utilize its other magic capabilities.

OK, we’ve looked at the positives but what about the realities?

All of these capabilities are, essentially, non-existent.  We’ve seen what happens when we commit to production of non-existent technology – we get the LCS and F-35.  The lesson that the Navy should have learned is to pursue non-existent technologies as research projects, not as production programs.  If we repeat the mistakes of concurrent research and production we’ll wind up with a next generation fighter whose costs and delays will dwarf those of the F-35 or LCS.  It greatly troubles me that no one is discussing an interim, achievable, capable fighter to fill the gap until the next generation technologies are fully developed and ready for production.  We appear to be intent on repeating the F-35 and LCS fiascos.  I see another too-big-to-fail, no-other-option, fantasy aircraft program in the making.

Consider the desire to cram so many capabilities into a single airframe.  Expecting a fighter to be a fully functioning EW aircraft is analogous to wanting every infantryman to be his own artillery battery.  It’s a great concept but it’s just not practical with any technology we have or can foresee.  Further, unless the EW functions are completely automated, it’s asking too much of a single pilot to be an expert at air-to-air combat and an expert at EW, to say nothing of having to attempt to split time and attention in the middle of combat.

Finally, consider the cost of this aircraft.  Those fantasy technologies aren’t going to come cheaply, if at all.  We’re looking at a half a billion dollars per aircraft in today’s dollars.  What that means is that the numbers procured will be very small.  The last aircraft that cost that kind of money was truncated at around 20 units.  We’ve harped on this point repeatedly.  Numbers matter.  The logical extension of the path we’re on has us heading towards airwings consisting of one aircraft.  This path is a mistake. 

To sum up, there are some potentially good concepts associated with this next generation fighter but it depends almost exclusively on non-existent technology.  If we approach this as a research effort while fielding interim, capable aircraft, we’ll do fine.  If we turn this into another all-or-nothing production program before any of the technology is proven, we’ll produce yet another disaster.  It really is that simple.

(1) Navy Times, "CNO wants more high-tech assets, delivered quickly", Lance M. Bacon, 4-Feb-2015,


  1. I look at it a course to steer the Navy out of purchasing their full commitment of F-35Cs. They've already slowed buying airframes in the 2015-2020 timeframe even after re-baselining the program. They won't purchase enough airframes until next decade to fill out even one squadron per deployed CVW, let alone one for every CVG (the goal is two per in the 2030s.) They basically are on track to float a det of F-35Cs as forward sensors, rather than strikers. Anyway, by 2025 the F/A-XX should be well underway, and UCLASS/UCAV will be sorted out - hopefully - making the F-35C an expensive sidebar in naval aviation, like the F6D and later F-111B.

    1. That's an interesting possibility. The Navy has never been wildly enthusiastic about the F-35. One can't help but wonder, then, what characteristics of the F-XX would excite the Navy that the F-35 doesn't have. It won't be cost! So, how would the F-XX differ from the F-35 so as to appeal to the Navy? We'll have to wait and see.

      Good comment! Thanks.

    2. Well for one, it will certainly have 2 engines. ;)

    3. Given the military's recent history, I'm just glad they didn't require a Romulan cloaking device...

  2. Not sure where he's getting this "stealth may be overrated" business. As a former submariner, he should understand the value.

    How is this future fighter going to have "full spectrum dominance" unless it emphasizes speed and stealth, along with everything else. The F-22 has full spectrum dominance. The F-35 (especially the C) doesn't. The Super Hornet doesn't. The F-22 routinely cleans the clocks of multiple 4th generation aircraft in DACT.

    If he wanted to be bold, he should've said, "manned fighters may be overrated."

    1. I would assume he's looking at all the anti-stealth technologies (multi-frequency, networking, aerial multi-static, IR/EO, etc.) and seeing that the cost of anti-stealth is significantly cheaper than stealth and realizing that stealth is on the wrong side of the cost equation.

    2. "The F-22 has full spectrum dominance."

      Huh? What's your definition of full spectrum dominance? It apparently doesn't match mine from the post.

    3. Not sure I know of some of those. Of the others, they are either highly theoretical and unproven, or have known limitations and vulnerabilities.

      Regardless, standard L through X band radar systems still comprise the VAST majority of current and new air defense detection and fire control systems.

      Stealth technology is proven vs all of these. Ignoring it means you allow every 70's-era, SA-2+ system in the world to regain its relevance.

      Seems like a dumb trade because maybe, someday, someone might be able to field (not just announce) a system in small numbers that can sometimes detect stealthy aircraft at longer range, when the environment is just right.

    4. What is your definition? Mine is, "it's way better than anything else out there".

      You routinely hear stories of flights of F-teens going up against single or pairs F-22s in DACT and all dying without ever seeing the Raptors.

    5. "Seems like a dumb trade because maybe, someday, someone might be able to field (not just announce) a system in small numbers that can sometimes detect stealthy aircraft ..."

      Seems even dumber to pursue stealth along an exponentially rising cost curve just to achieve a temporary, small improvement.

      It's clear that a baseline level of stealth has become the price of entry into the game of combat. The problem is when the pursuit of that stealth bankrupts the rest of your military capabilities. Consider the dozens of major programs that have been scaled back or cancelled to pay for the F-35.

      Stealth is not the only way to penetrate an enemy's defenses but it is surely the most expensive! Numbers are another way. So what if a 70's era system can detect you if you can throw more munitions at them then they can stop? Hmmm ..., maybe a throwaway UAV? Maybe more, simpler, and cheaper cruise missiles?

      Perhaps ECM and anti-radar is a better approach to penetration than stealth? It doesn't matter if your plane isn't stealthy if the enemy's radars are blinded.

      And so on ...

    6. "What is your definition? Mine is, "it's way better than anything else out there". "

      Re-read the post. I stated what I assumed Greenert meant by full spectrum dominance and it has nothing to do with A2A combat capability.

      My assumption may or may not be correct but it's clearly spelled out in the post.

    7. Stealth did not produce the F-35's exponentially rising cost curve. The F-35 only has "budget stealth". It is not in the same class as the F-22 or B-2.

      What screwed the F-35 was trying to fit three distinct aircraft (CTOL, CATOBAR, STOVL) into one program.

      Stealth is also not the most expensive way to penetrate an IADS. Look back to pre-stealth days. We used to use SEAD/DEAD and EW, just like you are suggesting, and it took strike packages measured in dozens of aircraft to hit a single target.

      As I've always said, stealth is an extremely effective club in the bag, but it's not the only one. We need to retain and enhance the old tricks too (e.g. EW, SEAD/DEAD, decoys, standoff munitions). The dominance of stealth may lessen over time, but it's not going away any time soon.

      I disagree with your definition of "full spectrum dominance". I don't think they were saying the aircraft needs to be an AWACS-jammer-fighter.

      I think they were saying the new aircraft needs to excel at the full spectrum of fighter missions across the full spectrum of threat scenarios. That means it needs to dominate in A2A, as well as strike, CAS, interdiction, SEAD/DEAD, and so on, in low to high threat scenarios.

    8. "I disagree with your definition of "full spectrum dominance". I don't think they were saying the aircraft needs to be an AWACS-jammer-fighter."

      You may be correct. I'm trying to read someone's mind based on a single, vague statement. However, as I mentally review all the reports and articles I've read over the last few years and consider all the programs that have been initiated or are under contemplation, a single common thread is evident and it's the focus on the electromagnetic spectrum. In fact, the phrase "full spectrum" has been used repeatedly to describe our electromagnetic warfare (EW) efforts. Consider the Navy's desire for the UCLASS - they want an ISR aircraft that can interface with other sensors and comm nodes. The LCS was supposed to be a node in a vast sensor network. There have been articles about electromagnetic maneuver warfare (whatever that is). Research has been directed towards using radar for communications. The F-35 is supposed to be its own EW support, to an extent. It seems clear to me that the Navy would like to move towards platforms that inherently contain vast network, comm, sensor, and EW capabilities in addition to whatever task the platform is nominally charged with.

      As I say, you may be right but I think they're referring to the electromagnetic full spectrum.

      Finally, if they're referring to just A2A, it seems a little odd to state it. Saying we want a fighter that can win seems like saying we want a plane that can fly - it's kind of assumed. If it's a fighter, it goes without saying that we want it to be able to fight and win against any enemy aircraft - it's kind of implied. So, I really think they mean electromagnetic. We'll have to wait for more details.

    9. "Full spectrum" has also been used to describe threat levels, and missions.

      But maybe it's all of the above.

      The F-35 is not a great A2A platform, especially the C model. Neither is are the Hornet or Super Hornet. They all lag considerably behind other 4+ gen aircraft, kinematically.

  3. An EA-6B has three ECMOs. An EA-18G has one. In both cases, the ECMO job is just to run the traditional ECM, plus HARMs. Even assuming this is a two-seat bird, they want every single backseater in the fleet to be able to handle this new higher workload, plus traditional RIO duties?

    The only benefit I can see to manned/unmanned is that you only have a single airframe type to maintain. Arguably you can also confuse the enemy by sending twenty planes at him but only one of them carrying someone you have to give a funeral to. But you pay for it with bigger size (and RCS), lower endurance, etc., than a pure unmanned craft.

    "every infantryman to be his own artillery battery" - that was the OICW, wasn't it?

    1. "... that was the OICW, wasn't it?"

      No, I actually meant that as literal hyperbole although I see the similarity to OICW.

    2. "Bigger size" is actually better as far as stealth goes, counterintuitive as it seems. A 6G design will do away with vertical tails (a RCS "side of a barn," carry more fuel and weps, and be able mount significantly more fuel efficient engines - all which enable a longer range than both the SH that it replaces, and the very similar (to the SH that is) F-35C. The optionally manned mantra, eh....

    3. Roger, part of the autonomy is likely not having to baby sit the EW/Sensors as much. Let the computers handle the mundane, let the pilot/secondary pilot handle the difficult stuff.

      Main advantage of making it manned/unmanned is that you can get it into service as a manned platform with limited unmanned functionality and upgrade the unmanned functionality over time.

      And there are a lot of good reasons to want it to be optionally unmanned. One thing we've found out is that pure unmanned aircraft actually cost a lot of money. That's because they are fairly boutique designs. By sharing an airframe you lower overall costs. Additionally, there are a lot of operations that you don't necessarily need an additional pilot for: buddy fueling, recon, aircraft movements, etc. Being able to do those lets you have more planes dedicated to the actual fighting.

  4. Even with the advances with AI, it still cannot replace an aviator in its current state. I just don't see an unmanned platform performing at the highest levels, surviving and completing the mission in a complex threat environment autonomously.

    What happens if the aircraft is cut-off from contact from the outside world and only has its own sensors to rely on. Can AI control the aircraft to perform BFM? How would it decide to handle multiple threats at the same time?
    The biggest challenges in the F-35 program was the software. Even with "learning" AI technology, it would take a long time before it is feasible.

    1. Gray,

      I think rules could be created to give an unmanned system a useful degree of autonomy. They don't have to be Terminator-like "learning" AIs. A step beyond flight simulator games may be enough to be useful.

      If unmanned systems can make up for their relatively low-brow autonomy with numbers, wartime producability, ability to absorb losses, and superior platform characteristics (e.g. stealth, T/Wt, turn rate), they may still be better.

      They may be T-72s to manned fighter's M1s, but Lancaster says loss exchange rates favor those with numbers on their side and the willingness to lose them to win.

      On the flip side, what happens when our manned aircraft lose their Link 16 & satcom feeds? They may be able to soldier on, but at a significant disadvantage.

      A lot of the F-35's software complexity revolves around getting the "sensor fusion" to the pilot.

    2. "I think rules could be created to give an unmanned system a useful degree of autonomy."

      You are vastly underestimating the challenge in creating software autonomy sufficient to allow a UAV to survive combat.

      Why do you think we don't have fully automated automobiles on the road, yet? It's because they don't work reliably and yet following a road is an extremely simple task compared to three dimensional (four, actually, because you have to "think ahead") aerial combat at speeds of hundreds of miles per hour.

    3. "If unmanned systems can make up for their relatively low-brow autonomy with numbers, wartime producability, ability to absorb losses, and superior platform characteristics (e.g. stealth, T/Wt, turn rate), they may still be better."

      No, not better, but perhaps more effective. You hit it on the head. Numbers and affordability are the UAV characteristics we should be pursuing, not complexity and mega-multi-functionality.

      Oddly, I seem to have a vague recollection of you arguing against my posts on numbers and "throwaway" UAVs. Hmmm .......

    4. Autonomously driving on roads safely is orders of magnitude harder than flying preplanned air routes with optional branching points. There are a lot more things autonomous cars can run into and many more ways for them to get into trouble.

      Consider most airliners fly the majority of their routes on autopilot today. Takeoffs, landings and unplanned events are the only points where humans need to touch the controls.

      Formation flying is harder, but doable. You're only trying to not hit a few things.

      Air refueling is harder, but we've already done some proof of concepts here.

      A2A combat is harder, but even here, I think there are a modest set of rules that would give a UCAV good enough "human-supervised" autonomy to be effective.

    5. Well, your view of autonomous software programming is impressively optimistic!

    6. It's not necessarily my view of autonomous software programming.

      It's my threshold for what I think is needed to be effective.

      I don't think it needs to be hyper-sophisticated to complete most missions, especially if it can run in "human-supervised" mode. It just needs to behave reasonably when the human is busy or the datalink is down. (i.e don't fly into the ground. don't kill anything without authorization, unless following ROEs. optimize risk to itself based on mission and known threats.)

      My 20+ years of software development experience doesn't make me an authority on autonomous systems development, but I do like to read about it. :)

      I'm not against throwaway UAVs. Decoys and cruise missiles are just that. There are certain things they are good at, and certain things they aren't. We need a full bag of tricks.

    7. Conveniently from a couple days ago, Programming safety into self-driving cars

      In his talk at the "Blue Sky" session at AAAI, Zilberstein argued that in many areas, including driving, we will go through a long period where humans act as co-pilots or supervisors, passing off responsibility to the vehicle when possible and taking the wheel when the driving gets tricky, before the technology reaches full autonomy (if it ever does).

      In such a scenario, the car would need to communicate with drivers to alert them when they need to take over control. In cases where the driver is non-responsive, the car must be able to autonomously make the decision to safely move to the side of the road and stop.

      "People are unpredictable. What happens if the person is not doing what they're asked or expected to do, and the car is moving at sixty miles per hour?" Zilberstein asked. "This requires 'fault-tolerant planning.' It's the kind of planning that can handle a certain number of deviations or errors by the person who is asked to execute the plan."


      "In real life, people often try to optimize several competing objectives," Zilberstein said. "This planning algorithm can do that very quickly when the objectives are prioritized. For example, the highest priority may be to minimize driving time and a lower priority objective may be to minimize driving effort. Ultimately, we want to learn how to balance such competing objectives for each driver based on observed driving patterns."

    8. "It's my threshold for what I think is needed to be effective."

      OK, your view of what constitutes an effective threshold is impressively optimistic!

    9. "I think rules could be created to give an unmanned system a useful degree of autonomy."

      If all we want is a UAV that flys from waypoint to waypoint, we've already got that. However, autonomy, in the current military context, refers to the ability to autonomously penetrate an enemy air space, select a path, conduct A2A combat and/or evasion on the way in, find the target area, evaluate the target conditions against the (presumably) pre-programmed mission parameters, assign weapons, attack, and then repeat the entire process on the way back out of enemy air space. With due respect to your view of the difficulty of that relative to following a road, this is light years beyond our programming capability. A few simple rules won't cut it.

      If we are content with simple rule based behavior we'll lose all our UAVs on the way in. I think it's exactly this recognition that has prompted the Navy to want a much simpler ISR-UCLASS rather than the Terminator-UCLASS that everyone else seems to want.

    10. It's really not that far.

      No aircraft autonomously penetrates an IADS without a pre-generated mission plan that takes into account known threats and supporting systems. A UCAV won't either. It will have to deal with pop-up threats, but this is reasonable with today's technology. Finding hidden surface targets on its own may be difficult, but it's not easy for humans either. The UCAV may have to ask its human handler, "I see something, is this a target?" As the last article points out, human-machine cooperation with happen first, before true autonomy.

      Fighters flying A2G sorties may have to defend themselves from air threats, but again, multi-objective programs can pick between weighted goals today. "Do I attack the enemy fighter or continue on my strike route?" If attack, then set up a flight path that will put the UCAV within its weapons envelope and (hopefully) outside the enemy's. Revise as needed, based on enemy activity. It doesn't need to be a dog fighter. Missiles do all of the work these days. Just get the enemy into their no-escape zone and fire.

      All of this is way easier than trying to "see" a toddler crossing the street, recognize he's not just blowing trash, and take evasive action. Or vice-versa and drive off the road to avoid an errant shopping bag flying in the wind. Or realize that a stop light is broken and autonomously participate in the human activity of "who got there first". Or see the construction zone and not drive blindly through the cones.

      Practical self-driving cars have near zero tolerance for mistakes. Kill a kid because your autonomous car doesn't stop, and you and the family are suing everyone who laid a finger on making the car.

      Making a bad decision that results in an autonomous fighter being shot down, and the military chalks it up as a casualty of war.

    11. I know, right?

      I shouldn't belittle the challenges, but useful UCAV autonomy is far easier than practical self-driving cars.

    12. Just as a point of where we actually are with autonomous aircraft...

      Autonomous aircraft can take off and land independently even on carriers.
      Autonomous aircraft can do A2A refueling.
      Autonomous aircraft can do multiple path flight plans.
      Autonomous aircraft can do strike missions (though we don't currently let them do it).
      Autonomous aircraft can que and track much better than humans and there is significant work and demonstrations wrt cooperative computer/human combat.

      Autonomous aircraft currently cannot do 3D A2A combat but they are getting there. And they will eventually get as good if not better than humans.

      And the primary goal for the initial unmanned aspect isn't that they'll be doing dedicated A2A combat. Its that we'll use the autonomous unmanned capabilities for things that are mundane, too risky, or quit frankly human pilots really don't want to do.

  5. I don't see anything in CNO/USN statements that show they have learned anything from USAF F22 mistakes and DOD mistakes with F35. Doesn't appear they will retain anything from F35, not even DASS?, F135 or radar which means they will reinvent the wheel. I think if USN gets 50 FAXXs by 2040, they will be lucky....

  6. I'm wondering how difficult a navalized YF-23 would be. It was the superior aircraft in the ATF comp, only losing because AF brass felt LM would manage the program better. I love those old quotes. But the 23 was stealthier, faster, and had longer legs. I'd forget about super duper future tech engines, go with an existing fast design and integrate the sensors needed.

    1. The advanced adaptive engine will be the heart of any 6G design. Its really the game changer as far as FAXX is concerned. Being able to switch between high bypass, high velocity thrust, and basically ram/scramjet. And its not as super duper future tech as you seem to think. The heart of the AAE is basically taking the SR71 engines, lowering cost, increasing reliability, and increasing variability.

    2. Adaptive engines should be considered separately from FA-XX, IMHO. You can drop them in at a later date.

      The problem with all 5th Gen designs to date is that they tried to push too many areas too far. Let's try something different, dial it back, and use proven systems and concepts with room for growth.

    3. IMHO, F/A-XX should be a big, two seat, twin-engine fighter with a high fuel fraction, good all around stealth, and good kinematics. It should have a nose large enough for a big randome (APG-77 class), and room inside for 2 x 2000lb class munitions plus AAMs or a large number of smaller munitions (SDB, GBU-38/54, CUDA).

      Essentially we need a cross between an F-22 and an F-14. We can drop in adaptive engines later. To start, use two growth F135s or F119s. I wouldn't mind it being a bit bigger, say between F-22 and FB-22 sized.

      It should have room for a self protection jamming suite and laser DIRCMS.

      It needs an upgraded DAS/EOTS suite and improvements in emitter location.

      We need to evaluate whether a useful laser weapon will be viable during F/A-XX's lifetime. If so, may need to reserve space for it. It has the potential to be a game changer. The space can be used for an EW variant as well.

      Optional manning is not an immediate need, IMHO. It can be added later.

      Two seats are necessary for effective use as a controller of UCAVs as well as an EW aircraft.

      In short, I don't want to break any new ground. Just catch up with technology that already exists and provide a large enough platform for future growth.

    4. I like alot of that.

      I do admit I'd rather be closer to the F-14 than the F-22. If only for budget sake. If we can give it decent front aspect stealth, I think that would be good enough.

      I do think speed and maneuverability are still important too.

      We need to be able to afford this thing in some numbers. And we need to re-create some abilities we've lost: ASW aircraft and dedicated tanking.

    5. I really think not having F-22 level all-aspects stealth hurts its capabilities a lot. It can't be an F-117 like penetrator. It has to go back to old-school IADS rollback. It can't even lob shots at high end SAM batteries and expect to get away.

    6. "IMHO, F/A-XX should be a big, two seat, twin-engine fighter with a high fuel fraction, good all around stealth, and good kinematics."

      "In short, I don't want to break any new ground. Just catch up with technology that already exists ..."

      Well, we find ourselves in substantial agreement though with entirely different rationales. Interesting.

      The problem is cost. What you're describing would be $200M-$300M in today's dollars, I believe. If so, that puts the acquisition numbers for the Navy in the 100 range and because of the low numbers the operating and maintenance costs would skyrocket. With numbers that small, what will be the aircraft that would fill the other 350 or so combat airwing spots?

      Here's where we differ. My vision for such an aircraft is as a pure air superiority fighter. I believe you have a different mission in mind. Odd that we get to much the same end point!

      We have to give such an aircraft only what it absolutely needs and no more or it will not be affordable. Room for a laser? That would be great but it will cost more. Upgraded DAS/EOTS? Maybe but only if that is ABSOLUTELY needed for an air superiority role. Room for bombs? No, though providing room for A2A weapons may confer room for bombs. Jamming suite and DIRCMS? Only if they're completely proven (they aren't yet) and affordable.

      The Navy needs a plane that is lethal but not breathtaking. Breathtaking would be great but is unaffordable. Let the AF do breathtaking.

      Your concept of a cross between an F-22 and F-14 meets my needs as long as the technology is ABSOLUTELY proven - no development. The only development would be systems integration and even then only to the extent necessary to operate the individual components. None of the this-aircraft-can-utilize-any-sensor-or-weapon-anywhere-in-the-world crap. No controlling other platforms - if we want a UAV controller, let's build a simple, dedicated UAV control aircraft. No ISR for the fleet - if we want ISR let's build a dedicated ISR aircraft.

      So, I'm largely with you but for all the wrong reasons, I suspect!

      It's all about numbers which means it's all about cost.

    7. CNO,

      The problem is, if you want a manned, pure A2A aircraft that has sufficient range to keep the carrier out of trouble, and a big enough radar, you are already looking at large aircraft. Fuel has to go somewhere and is heavy. APG-77 class radars are big.

      Some examples of aircraft that started out as more-or-less pure A2A fighters include the F-15, Su-27, and F-22. All are big aircraft.

      If we had the foresight to make the F-22 slightly larger, it could've carried the full range of ordinance meant for the F-35, with only a marginally higher cost.

      Given the limited number of deck spots on a carrier, and the cost of buying both strikers and pure fighters, we just can't afford to build single role aircraft.

    8. "... already looking at large aircraft."

      I agree and I'm all for it.

      "Given the limited number of deck spots on a carrier, and the cost of buying both strikers and pure fighters, we just can't afford to build single role aircraft."

      This is where you and fundamentally differ. We can afford both and we have in the past (A-6, F-14). What we have to stop doing is making every aircraft a monument to Star Wars. We need to return to making solid, capable aircraft using PROVEN technology. If we do that, they will be affordable. We can leave the Star Wars to the AF.

    9. We had both strikers and fighters back when we were spending 10% of GDP on defense and could afford multiple, simultaneous development programs.

      Stealth is proven technology. APG-77 is proven. F135s will be proven, eventually. I'd steal the cockpit and avionics from the F-35, just scaled up.

      I'm all for using proven technology. In fact, I don't want to design anything new here, other than the airframe. I want to bake in reserve weight, space, cooling and power, though, for technologies which may become proven of the FA-XX's lifetime.

      If we're going to build a large aircraft anyway, the incremental cost of making it a good striker is not high. The best way to destroy an enemy's air force is on the ground. Pure fighters are largely worthless once the enemy IADS is down. All fighters need to be multi-role.

      The F-14 made a very good bomber. So did the F-15. The F-22 is our primary penetrating fighter bomber now, replacing the F-117, even with its limited internal payload. Many other good fighters have historically been good strikers too.

      IMHO, an ideal future CAW would be something like 24 large FA-XXs and 48 multi-role UCAVs. All of which can strike. All of which can contribute to OCA/DCA.

      The bays of an FB-22-sized FA-XX, in theory, could house a pair of GBU-28s, giving the CAW a stealthy, deep penetration strike capability it doesn't have today. It could also carry air-launched PAC-3s internally, giving it a potential boost-phase ABM capability.

    10. Nostalgia isn't what it used to be...

      If you take the August 1971 LIFE Magazine article "How many millions should an f-14 cost?, you could replace F-14 with F-35 and republish today it as JSF critique. Same arguments: too expensive, way too complex, unproven tech, not what the Navy needs... The A model was $43M in '83 - roughly $105M today; the D was $77M in '88 - $155M today. That's F-22 price tag in current year dollars.

      Eventually the Tomcat came to be loved in its time, and revered in retrospect.

      V/r TA

    11. TA, the original F-14 contract in 1969 was for $12M per ($77M in 2014 dollars). That quickly increased to around $20M in 1971 ($116M in 2014).

      The oft quoted cost is $38M in 1998 dollars ($55M in 2014). I'd take this one with a huge grain of salt as I suspect it's some kind of averaged cost over the program and, if so, wouldn't be relevant.

      A couple of things to note,

      1. The F-14 inflation adjusted costs are still below the F-35.
      2. The F-14 costs were buying a functioning aircraft unlike the F-35 costs, at the moment.
      3. The F-14D model costs are roughly comparable to the F-35 low end costs but the D represented the ultimate evolution of the Tomcat whereas the $155M of the F-35 represents a non-combat capable version at the begining of its development.

      Numbers aside, your point about nostalgia is quite right!

  7. "IMHO, F/A-XX should be a big, two seat, twin-engine fighter with a high fuel fraction, good all around stealth, and good kinematics. It should have a nose large enough for a big randome (APG-77 class), and room inside for 2 x 2000lb class munitions plus AAMs or a large number of smaller munitions.

    Essentially we need a cross between an F-22 and an F-14. We can drop in adaptive engines later. To start, use two growth F135s or F119s. I wouldn't mind it being a bit bigger, say between F-22 and FB-22 sized."

    I like it B.Smitty but when you look at something the size of an F14 and bigger than an F22, it's going to be mighty expensive! This isn't going to be used by USAF or anyone else, right? So production is only for USN which is going to be relatively small so the price is going to be horrendous..... I'm not sure with new carriers, new boomers,etc how this survives inside USN budget.....

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    2. The USAF could buy it, just like they bought the F-4. Unclear if they would. They could reduce the end of the F-35 buy to pay for it.

      As far as the Navy paying for it, this wouldn't happen until well after the F-35 buy finishes.

      It would be expensive, but it is what the Navy needs. The flying walrus F-35C is fine as a striker, but will struggle in A2A. Same goes for the draggy, low T/Wt, unstealthy, short-legged Super Hornet.

      Neither will have the power, cooling, weight or space margins for a laser weapon.

      The only other option that has the potential to be cheaper is a multi-role UCAV. But as CNO has amply pointed out, we need a backup mechanism if comms are denied. This big, two seat FA-XX, with similar range as the UCAV, could act as a controller.

      Hopefully by not trying to break new ground, we can reign in R&D costs.

      A pair of F135s produce 56,000lbs thrust dry, 86,000lbs thrust, reheated. A 48,000lb empty FA-XX, with 34,000lbs internal fuel and 3,600lbs of A2A munitions and pilots would still have a 1:1 T/Wt ratio with full fuel.

      34,000lbs of fuel is F-111-class. Combat radius could be on the order of 1000-1300nm or more. That would allow the carrier to stay on the fringe or outside of DF-21D range.

      A land-based variant could fly from Guam and hit targets on mainland China, or fly coastal CAP sorties, with just one outbound and return refueling.

      This is the type of capability both the USAF and Navy need. 3-500nm radius fighters just place too much strain on tankers, and force their orbits to be too close to the enemy.

  8. I've seen "full-spectrum dominance" used in cases that definitely aren't about EW. The term seems to come from a slight mangling of

    "full-spectrum superiority — The cumulative effect of dominance in the air, land, maritime, and space domains and information environment (which includes cyberspace) that permits the conduct of joint operations without effective opposition or prohibitive interference. (JP 3-0)"

    That's from "Joint Publication 1-02 Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms", which is here:

    The reason for "optionally manned" aircraft is very simple and political: it tries to get both the "Pilots are important!" and the "Drones are the answer to everything" constituencies backing the project.

    1. John, I suspect you're right on the money about the optionally manned rationale. Good observation.


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