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Video Above: What Role Would 5th Generation Stealthy Fighter Jets Play in a War with China?

By Kris Osborn - President & Editor-In-Chief, Warrior Maven

6th-Generation Stealth Fighter 

The already airborne Air Force 6th-generation stealth fighter will operate as part of an integrated “family-of-systems” including unmanned drones, manned jets and a new generation of networking technologies, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall explained.

“NGAD must be more than just the next crewed fighter jet. It’s a program that will include a crewed platform teamed with much less expensive autonomous un-crewed combat aircraft, employing a distributed, tailorable mix of sensors, weapons, and other mission equipment operating as a team or formation,” he said in an Air Force report.

Kendall described this concept in terms of defining a “system-of-systems” concept for the Next-Generation Air Dominance platform. 

Certainly the Air Force has shown that advanced AI-enabled computer algorithms are capable of processing information in milliseconds, making decisions and performing quite well in dog-fights, at times prevailing over human pilots. 

However, there are certain more subjective variables best addressed by human faculties, such as emotion, intuition and an ability assess a variety of factors in relation to one another.

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A US Air Force rendering of a sixth-generation fighter jet. Screenshot/US Air Force

A US Air Force rendering of a sixth-generation fighter jet. Screenshot/US Air Force

At the same time, procedural functions such as data processing, an ability to find moments of relevance among hours of raw incoming information as well as computational assessments and certain kinds of problem solving can all be done in milliseconds by a computer. 

Therefore, the optimal approach, many Air Force developers seem to emphasize, it to optimize the best of both manned and unmanned systems operating in close coordination with one another in a networked capacity. This will allow the operation to benefit from the best of each. Perhaps this is why the Air Force has had some success flying manned jets with an unmanned, AI-capable co-pilot.

This kind of synergy seems to encompass much of Kendall’s focus for the 6th-generation platform as it can blend the unparalleled attributes of both human pilots as well as drones. Part of the equation, Kendall also expressed, is the added benefit of cost savings because unmanned systems do not need to be built with a comparable measure of protections.

“We’re looking for systems that cost nominally on the order of at least half as much as the manned systems that we're talking about for both NGAD and for B-21” while adding capability, he said. “

The NGAD platform is expected to incorporate a new generation of stealth fighter jet properties to include new dimensions of speed, maneuverability, stealth properties, sensing and AI-enabled information processing.

The Air Force has already make breakthrough progress with an ability to operate a “loyal wingman” drone alongside a manned fighter jet. This greatly reduces latency by obviating the need to send video feeds and data through a ground control station and enables manned crews to operate the sensor payload and flight path of a nearby unmanned system. 

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest and President of Warrior Maven - the Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President, Center for Military Modernization