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USAF now looking to swarms rather than 6th gen fighter

a_majoor

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Interestign conversion taking place here, rather than thinking about new platforms, the USAF and USN are looking at networks and swarms of devices to carry out missions. While there are lots of conceptual issues with this approach (cyber attack, jamming and attacking the physical emitters all come to mind), this is certainly new thinking on the part of the USAF:

http://nextbigfuture.com/2016/06/us-air-force-and-navy-look-to.html

US Air Force and Navy look to operationalize a future system of systems by 2025 instead of building a Sixth Generation fighter

The USAir Force’s new view – that the F-22 and F-35 replacement may be a system of systems and would include unmanned aerial vehicles – puts the service squarely in line with the Navy. In 2015 Navy Secretary Ray Mabus predicted that the F-35C Joint Strike Fighter would be the last traditional manned fighter the Navy would buy. In January the Navy began a requirements study for the Next Generation Air Dominance program – the effort formerly known as F/A-XX, or the sixth-generation fighter program – and Navy aviation leadership told USNI News that the effort would be conducted with input from the Navy but not in a joint manner.

The US Air force is looking for faster and more flexible upgrades of components and modules of a larger system.

Various aspects of a future System of Systems

integrated network systems
operationalize combat-focused space and cyber forces
increase range and payload
increase speed, manoeuvrability and stealth for the air space penetration components
Modest investments will also be made to upgrade and life-extending fourth-generation aircraft and modernize the F-22 Raptor
Leverage automation and machine learning

The goal is to operationalize a future air superiority network by 2025.

The sixth generation fighter project (F-X) would have turned into a 20 to 30-year development program. Instead, the Air Force plans to start an AOA in January, 2017, to look at options for “what we can get short of a 20 or 30 year leap". The planning effort, called “Next Generation Air Dominance,” is scheduled to be complete by the middle of 2018.

The US Air Force will likely leverage existing bombers into Arsenal planes with more drones and missiles.

The Air Force seems likely to integrate with the US Navy's vision of a kill web or tactical cloud. They will put data up in the cloud and users are going to go grab it and use it as a contributor to a targeting solution.
 

a_majoor

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Russia's forecasting of what they see as a 6th generation fighter:

http://rbth.com/defence/2016/09/02/what-will-6th-generation-fighters-be-like-in-the-us-and-russia_626557

What will 6th-generation fighters be like in the U.S. and Russia?
September 2, 2016 MIKHAIL KHODARENOK, GAZETA.RU
Early development work on a sixth-generation fighter is underway in the U.S. and Russia. Military experts discuss the type of aircraft that may appear in the foreseeable future, and how soon we could realistically expect to see these planes in the skies.

The U.S. is studying potential tactics in aerial battles and the technologies that will be necessary to dominate the skies in the future. Conceptual views have been formed into a collection of requirements called "Next Generation Air Dominance" (NGAD). Sometimes this document is also called "Penetrating Counter Air.”

“We need to have something by the late 2020s," said Brigadier General Alexus Grynkewich, who participated in the Air Superiority 2030 program, in an interview with Defense News.

“I think a realistic timeline is somewhere around 2028 with key investments in some key technology areas, you’d be able to have some initial operational capability of a penetrating counter air capability," he explained.

Next Generation Air Dominance

American analysts believe that the future dominance of the U.S. air force will be based not only on one platform, such as the sixth-generation fighter. Most likely this will be a sort of family network of systems.

Work on this issue is currently being conducted at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, where new technologies are being studied and precise NGAD requirements are being developed. The key to success will be simultaneous projects on the development of engines, avionics and weapons, which will then be integrated into the sixth-generation fighter.

"NGAD, like other fighter jets, will need to be able to penetrate enemy air defenses and enter contested spaces, but it will also need to be able to operate at greater distances than current platforms," Grynkewich explained.

Hypersonic and pilotless

Work on sixth-generation fighters is also being carried out in Russia.

Back in March 2016, Colonel General Viktor Bondarev, the commander of Russia’s air force, announced that a sixth-generation fighter was being developed, as well as a seventh-generation one.

Afterwards, Vladimir Mikhailov, a representative of the United Aviation Construction Company, said that the sixth-generation fighter would be airborne by 2023. Then, in July, Vladimir Mikheyev, and advisor to the deputy general director of the Radioelectronic Technologies Concern, said that the sixth-generation planes will have space capacities and will be pilotless. This means that they will be able to enter near space and their command will be optional: The pilot can be taken aboard or the plane can fly without him.

According to Bondarev, "the possibility of pilotless use is one of the requirements of the sixth-generation fighter," adding that the airplane must know how to "fly at hypersonic speed, be multifunctional, super-maneuverable and unnoticeable."

Just talk for now

According to independent military expert Anton Lavrov, there are plans to create a Russian sixth-generation fighter, but there is “no understanding of how it should look, which technologies it should use and which competitors it will have to face.”

For example, there are many problems with hypersonic planes. The U.S. has repeatedly tried to conduct tests at hypersonic speeds. However, most of the prototypes could not fly for just a few minutes in such a flight mode.

"Before speaking about a sixth-generation plane we must first bring the fifth-generation one to operative condition,” said editor-in-chief of Export Vooruzhenii (Weapons Export) magazine Andrei Frolov.

“A sixth-generation plane must obviously be developed. However, I would not make any statements about our potential fighter getting into the air in six years, in 2023. We’ll be able to get some kind of model up, sure. But will this be a sixth-generation plane?" he said.

Editor-in-chief of Vzlyot (Take-off) magazine Andrei Fomin notes that nothing is known about any type of document determining the plane's conception.

"That is why we cannot say now what the sixth-generation fighter will be like – piloted or pilotless, hypersonic or not. For now this is just discussion and preliminary scientific studies," said Fomin.
 

MarkOttawa

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Does seem as if USAF moving away from actual sixth-generation NGAD fighter:

1) U.S. Air Force Family Of Systems Trumps Next-Generation Fighter

For the U.S. Air Force, the succession of era-defining fighters—World War II’s P-51, the Korean War’s F-86, the Vietnam War’s F-4, the Cold War’s F-15 and the F-22 today—is over. The future of air superiority belongs to a collection of capabilities, such as aircraft and satellites new and familiar integrated on a shared network and fighting as a team. 

Once considered the Air Force’s straightforward replacement program for the Lockheed Martin F-22, the budget line for Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) reflects this philosophical sea change in airpower acquisition. The focus has shifted from delivering the F-22’s highly anticipated successor to creating an environment that enables a networked force of old and new capabilities, which may or may not include a new aircraft. The point is not to develop a new aircraft, but rather to leverage capabilities to achieve air superiority in multiple domains including air, space and cyberspace.

Next-Generation Air Dominance shifts away from new “widgets”

Long-term strategy does not rule out new aircraft for F-22 replacement

“We see [NGAD] as an enterprise challenge,” said Maj. Gen. Michael Fantini, director of warfighting integration capability, at the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute on Aug. 7.

Any discussion that starts with a question about a specific platform for NGAD is eschewed. The aircraft is just the “truck.” The future is in the technology that connects a disparate set of platforms, including some, such as the F-22, that were designed specifically to not connect with other platforms...
https://aviationweek.com/defense/us-air-force-family-systems-trumps-next-generation-fighter

2) Lots more, with further links, videos, images:

"B-21s With Air-To-Air Capabilities," Drones, Not 6th Gen Fighters To Dominate Future Air Combat
The Air Force's vision of the future of aerial combat has evolved greatly as of late and has moved away from plans for new, costly manned fighters.

he U.S. Air Force is still working to iron out just what it thinks air-to-air combat will look like a decade from now and what types of aircraft it will need to come out on top in any future fight. As part of its ongoing Next Generation Air Dominance program, or NGAD, the service is exploring a wide array of manned, unmanned, and pilot-optional concepts, as well as advanced associated technologies, including increased network connectivity and autonomous capabilities. At the same time, however, it has steadily moved away from plans for a once much-touted sixth-generation fighter jet.

A number of senior Air Force leaders have offered updates about NGAD recently, all of who stressed that the final force mixture will include a variety of different platforms, as well as munitions and other systems, all tied together at various levels. This could include manned aircraft networked together with “loyal wingman” drones, fully autonomous unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAV), swarms of low-cost unmanned aircraft, and more.

“If we were to characterize it [NGAD] as a fighter, we would be… thinking too narrowly about what kind of airplane we need in a highly contested environment,” U.S. Air Force Major General Scott Pleus, who is currently Director of Air and Cyber Operations for Pacific Air Forces, recently told Air Force Magazine. “A B-21 [Raider stealth bomber] that also has air-to-air capabilities” and can “work with the family of systems to defend itself, utilizing stealth – maybe that’s where the sixth-generation airplane comes from.”..

Of course, while the Air Force is clearly still very far from settling on any mix of platforms that will provide its future tactical air combat capabilities, there are some indications as to where the service’s general thoughts may be trending. PCA had initially focused heavily on some form of manned sixth-generation fighter jet, but as NGAD has evolved, it has steadily shifted more and more toward unmanned and pilot-optional concepts linked together by powerful networks so that they can operate at least semi-autonomously, if not autonomously, as necessary.

“[NGAD] really does diverge away from a platform-centric way of doing air superiority,” Major General Pleus explained Air Force Magazine. “We’re going to have to up our game in all areas.”

In the future, manned aircraft may still act as limited, centralized forward controllers for the Air Force’s unmanned air combat fleets. At the same time, the Air Force is actively exploring systems that could potentially rapidly turn any aircraft into an autonomous platform as part of its Skyborg program. Though the Air Force has declined to confirm if this remains the case, the service had previously decided that the B-21 Raider itself would be pilot optional, as well.

The unmanned components of NGAD, whatever they turn out to be, may be more complex than just pure drones that may or may not be capable of working together with manned aircraft as “loyal wingmen,” too. An emphasis on modular physical structures, as well as software architecture, offers the possibility that a platform that begins in one form may quickly grow into one that can operate with or without crew and with or without any kind of direction from a manned aircraft or a ground station.

In addition, the line between aerial weapons and unmanned aircraft may also become increasingly blurry. For years now, the Air Force has been touting plans to develop and acquire fleets of unmanned aircraft that will be “attritable.” This is typically understood to mean that they are cheap enough to procure that commanders can use them in riskier ways without worrying about the costs to replace them, but it is not supposed to be a synonym for “expendable” or “disposable.” The prime example of such a system is Kratos’ XQ-58A Valkyrie drone, which the Air Force is now experimenting with...
https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/29690/b-21s-with-air-to-air-capabilities-drones-not-6th-gen-fighters-to-dominate-future-air-combat

Mark
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daftandbarmy

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MarkOttawa said:
Does seem as if USAF moving away from actual sixth-generation NGAD fighter:

2) Lots more, with further links, videos, images:

Mark
Ottawa

I was first introduced to this concept in 1987 at RMCS Shrivenham and, I assume, it was an idea that was in play long before that. Nice to see it finally coming off the drawing board, apparently.
 

MarkOttawa

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USAF looking for that revolution in aviation affairs (USN, USMC, US Army also looking at major shake-ups)--excerpts (full article may be subscriber only):

In 2020, All Eyes In The Pentagon Are On 2030

Three different visions of the future of U.S. air and space power from the air, land and maritime perspective will come to the fore in 2020.

The U.S. Air Force will propose a radical break from the status quo with a $30 billion, five-year plan to invest in the future, including combat power, advanced communications, offensive and defensive space and a more survivable logistics system. It is a break from the status quo because the Air Force will finance the plan by divesting multiple fleets of older aircraft by the end of 2024.

As the Air Force doubles down on the future, the U.S. Army is laying plans to assume more of the long-range surveillance and strike capabilities now performed by the Air Force. One of the most significant and somehow least heralded new initiatives unveiled in 2019 is the Army’s Multi-Domain Sensing System (MDSS), which seeks to introduce by 2028 new fleets of surveillance aircraft, airships and satellites to identify targets hundreds or thousands of miles downrange. The targeting data collected by the MDSS will then queue strikes from a new arsenal of long-range, ground-launched missiles and projectiles—not unlike how the Air Force’s satellites, E-8Cs and RC-135s currently pick out ground targets deep behind enemy lines for bombers and fighters to strike.

Finally, the Marine Corps and Navy are changing course. In another pivotal 2019 moment, Gen. David Berger, the newly confirmed Marine Corps commandant, published new planning guidance in July. The 26-page strategic blueprint concedes that China’s long-range, anti-ship weapons make the Marines’ traditional amphibious strategy unfeasible. In 2020, Berger and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday will lay out a new strategic direction, emphasizing closer integration of each service’s tactical air forces.

As the services scramble to fulfill a goal to be prepared to “dominate” a conflict with China and Russia by 2028, different visions of a future conventional conflict are starting to take shape. The Air Force is betting long on future capabilities, shifting investments into technologies that would redefine traditional notions of how to manage a battle in real time from the air and space. The Army is focusing on existing technologies, expanding the reach of artillery and regenerating certain capabilities such as the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (J-Stars), which the Air Force plans to abandon. The Navy and Marine Corps remain committed to an aircraft carrier-centric force structure but also to adapting it to operate in a new threat environment.

...More than $30 billion will be diverted to next-generation capabilities by accelerating retirements of older aircraft. The rule used by Air Force leaders, according to Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, was each fleet’s relevance in a conflict with China or Russia between 2030 and 2038. If the aircraft fleet’s cost cannot justify its assessed value during that period, the Air Force will propose early retirement within the next five years.

So far, the Air Force has openly discussed only one aircraft fleet as likely to face early retirement: the Rockwell B-1B Lancer. The fleet has performed nobly over the past 18 years as a close air support asset for ground troops in Afghanistan and the Middle East, an unlikely role for an aircraft originally designed to drop nuclear bombs on defended targets in the Soviet Union. Although it can still perform conventional missions against lightly defended targets and is the only Air Force fleet with a maritime strike capability, the service has to decide if that is worth the cost of sustaining the swing-wing bomber through its retirement date in 2040.

If Congress accepts the Air Force’s funding transfers, the result could be a new approach to air power after 2030. With the advantages of stealth, precision and centralized BMC2 eroding, the Air Force’s counter is to make decisions faster than an enemy can react by harnessing and exploiting a vast quantity of sensor data at lightning speed. If American fighters and bombers cannot rely on stealth to survive, they can still win by moving faster and more decisively...
https://aviationweek.com/defense-space/2020-all-eyes-pentagon-are-2030

Mark
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Does that mean revisiting the Key West Agreement?  Is the new dividing line between orbital and sub-orbital projectiles?
 

a_majoor

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Speculation on the "Sixth Generation" aircraft has heated up with the USAF announcing they had built a prototype in just one year. This article looks at the short timeline and the various network/UAV/UCAV approaches the USAF has been examining and comes up with an interesting speculation: the aircraft is a variation of the B-21 Raider designed to carry and control swarms of UCAVs carried aboard and released near the target area or combat box.

The B-21 certainly would have the range, and carrying a launcher full of UCAVs rather than bombs or missiles isn't much of a stretch. The aircraft has room for one or more controllers, communications gear and even an on board server rack to provide the network horsepower for all of this, and if the aircraft is treated as a control platform rather than a "fighter", it makes sense.

Integrating this into conventional air operations may be a bit more challenging, since there will be a big performance gap between a B-21 derived platform and an F-35, not to mention accounting for long flight times if the "F-21" has to be launched from the United States and fly to the area, but conceptually a F-15EX could serve as a launch platform as well (perhaps carrying the UCAVs in a stealth carrier under the aircraft, much like the Enhanced Super Hornet concept).

https://www.popularmechanics.com/military/aviation/a34148871/air-force-secret-new-fighter-jet-speculation/

The Air Force's Secret New Fighter Jet May Not Even Be a Fighter at All

The world continues to search for clues surrounding the mysterious new fighter jet that the U.S. Air Force secretly designed, built, and flew in just one year. We're still debating whether or not the Air Force already showed us what the new fighter looks like, and now, one defense blog raises an even more intriguing question: What if the Air Force's new fighter jet isn't actually a fighter jet at all?

✈ You love badass planes. So do we. Let's nerd out over them together.

As The War Zone points out, the pace of technological innovation means the Air Force's secret new fighter may not be what most people envision when they think of fighter jets, and the aircraft could be something totally new for the same mission: sweeping enemy planes from the skies.

EVERYTHING WE KNOW SO FAR

Last week, the Air Force’s chief of acquisition, Will Roper, revealed to Defense News that the service had developed the new fighter jet under the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) project. That project, designed to produce a peer and possible successor to the F-22 Raptor, has been in the works for several years, but aviation experts pegged an actual flyable fighter jet to be at least 5 to 10 years away.

Yet Roper announced that instead of the traditional years of development, the new fighter took merely a single year to produce—a staggering, inconceivably short period of time in anyone’s air force.

Given that astonishing time frame, The War Zone raises an interesting theory: With the new fighter jet, the Air Force didn't just do away with the traditional aircraft design process—it also ripped up the traditional idea of what a fighter could look like. Perhaps the new Air Force is now doing things in a fundamentally different way than it has in the past, by virtue of necessity.

The new fighter, says The War Zone, is merely one part of the NGAD program. Over the past year, the Air Force has referred to NGAD as not as a single plane, but a “family of systems” that could well include both crewed and uncrewed aircraft. This was apparently the conclusion the Air Force came to after it studied an analysis of alternatives for the new air dominance program.

Crewed aircraft could be accompanied by uncrewed aircraft into battle, with the pilotless drones acting as decoys, wingmen, flying magazines, or sensor platforms. All of these aircraft would collaborate with the help of AI and battlefield networking to shoot down enemy planes and claim the skies. From The War Zone:

The 'demonstrator' could actually be an entire family of rapidly prototyped and already developed systems, with the networking and command and control architecture, shared sensors, and weapons being far more of a focus than the airframes themselves.

snip

One idea is a much larger “fighter,” even using parts of the B-21 Raider program, designed for long range and endurance. (The B-21 is the coolest plane we've never seen.) The Air Force wants a fighter that can fly long distances over the vast Indo-Pacific region, using the handful of bases that are available, and that can fly escort missions for manned bombers into enemy territory.

It would be difficult to design a traditional fighter of a traditional size with the range to do this. A larger platform would allow the Air Force to stuff more weapons and crucially, fuel, into the “fighter.”
 
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