Future Fighter

US Navy looks for a 6th Gen replacement for its carrier borne fighter fleet by 2030

Atul Chandra


The US Navy has asked for information to be provided for a carrier based, strike fighter aircraft in the 2030 timeframe to replace its Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler fighter aircraft in the 2030s. According to the document released by Naval Air Systems Command Aircraft, the survey will be a precursor to an analysis of alternatives for candidate strike fighter aircraft replacements for the FA-18E/F and EA-18G fleet as they start to near the end of their flying hours around 2030. The purpose of the survey is to determine the market interest, feasibility,and capability of potential sources and does not constitute a Request for Proposal (RFP) at this point of time.There are concerns that not many companies may be able to design and develop such a fighter in the time frame demanded.

According to vice president, Analysis Teal Group Corporation, Richard Aboulafia, “Unless R&D funding for this programme is provided in the next few years, Boeing’s ability to design and integrate a new fighter plane will be seriously eroded. Since budget pressures mean this is not likely to happen, there's a good chance that Lockheed Martin might be the only player in the US fighter market when this program gets underway.” While relations with the US have improved, India may be offered an unsolicited proposal to join the programme just as the JSF was the first time the US invited foreign partners to join in an aircraft design effort. This might proceed along similar lines and if so, India is a conceivable partner. It depends, however, on programme timing and technology firewalls. India’s FGFA programme with Sukhoi, and future Rafale co-developments with Dassault, could complicate a US-India partnership for a very advanced fighter, concludes Aboulafia.

The study will consider the capabilities available, as well as the technical risks and costs (development and total ownership), of all candidate concepts. The companies expected to respond to the survey have also been asked to consider provision of other capabilities to their concepts that are currently provided by current strike fighter aircraft. These would involve organic air-to-air refuelling (AAR), tactical reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition (RSTA), and airborne electronic attack (AEA). A description of growth potential to directed energy weapons (self protect, defensive, and/or offensive), as well as improvements to specific fuel consumption from incorporation of propulsion system technologies which can be traded for increased range, loiter time, or performance has also been asked for.

Here according to Aboulafia, “It’s difficult to imagine major breakthroughs for this product, except in terms of electronics integration and off board sensor and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) connectivity. Everything else might just look like a fifth generation fighter with incremental improvements. supercruise, next generation AESA, low-observability, high thrust to weight ratios, etc,” he says. As for range and payload, given the size of a tactical fighter (and carrier requirements) they are unlikely to change very much, he adds.

The US Navy has asked that the air vehicle be able to conduct persistent, penetrating missions in an anti-access/area denied A2AD operational environment. It is intended to be a complementary CVW (Carrier Air Wing) asset to the F-35C along with an unmanned persistent intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) vehicle with precision strike capability. The platforms under consideration would include unmanned, optionally manned and manned aircraft and will also consider as relevant, “concepts that are derived from legacy aircraft, ‘clean sheet’ new design aircraft, as well as innovative technology concepts specifically tailored for the operational context”, according to the document.

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