Video Above: The Army Research Laboratory is now engineering new rocket, missile and artillery rounds
by Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven
The Air Force's new now "airborne" 6th-Gen aircraft will likely complement and operate alongside the F-35. Not only does the Air Force plan to acquire more than 1,700 F-35s, but the service plans to fly the aircraft well into the 2070s. Plans for this include the often referred to Air Force’s continuous development upgrade program intended for the F-35. Many of the anticipated huge breakthrough technologies are expected to be software-reliant, computer-based or related to advanced sensing and AI, therefore enabling a jet like the F-35 to make massive leaps forward in performance without needing a new airframe configuration. Lockheed engineers built the F-35 with this in mind, meaning it was technically configured to be upgradeable for decades.
Since several of the artistic renderings of the new 6th-Gen aircraft show an absence of tail fins or any vertical structures, perhaps 6th-gen aircraft will be stealthier? Perhaps it will be faster and more maneuverable than its 5th-Gen predecessors? These could truly be crucial attributes given well documented rapid advances in enemy air defenses.
For example, the F-35’s sensor fusion already encompasses early iterations of AI, given that advanced computer algorithms are able to aggregate, analyze, organize and transmit clear, integrated information to pilots. New yet-to-exist sensors and weapons configurations could be accommodated by this kind of technical infrastructure.
Stealth coating can be maintained and upgraded, weapons’ lethality and guidance systems can be upgraded with software as we have seen with the both the F-35 and F-22, and engine enhancements decreasing heat emissions or increasing propulsion and maneuverability are also entirely possible as well. What this means is all the evidence points to the continued, long-term operational relevance of the F-22 and F-35. The Air Force already plans to fly the F-35 until 2070 and the F-22 all the way to 2060.
Newer networking technologies, such as radios able to connect F-22s and F-35s in stealth mode and two-way LINK 16 connectivity between the two 5th-Gen platforms means secure interoperability between 5th and 6th gen fighters is expected, a technological scenario enabling a massive expansion in tactical warfare possibilities.
Also, perhaps the faster-than-expected development of a 6th-Gen aircraft is in part intended to address the problems that there are insufficient numbers of F-22s in the fleet. The air-to-air dominance, continued upgrades and combat performance of the F-22 led many senior Air Force leaders to argue in favor of re-starting F-22 production. The decision at the time wound up being not to restart F-22 production, due to budget constraints. However, perhaps the thinking was to simply build a newer, better, even more capable F-22-like platform able to leverage and optimize several breakthrough technologies. Some of the artistic renderings or concepts of 6th-Gen aircraft show a dual-engine configuration as well as other visible attributes somewhat analogous to the F-22 with things like wing shape. Could a 6th-Gen fighter be an even better, newer, stealthier F-22-type aircraft? Could that at least be part of the rationale for why the F-22 production line has not been restarted in recent years?
Kris Osborn is the new Defense Editor for the National Interest. 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.