Home » Aviation » Major Work to Replace Navy’s Super Hornet to Start in 2015


Major Work to Replace Navy’s Super Hornet to Start in 2015

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A Boeing artist's conception of a potential design for F/A-XX. Boeing Photo

Boeing artist’s conception of a potential design for F/A-XX. Boeing Photo

The U.S. Navy expects to undertake an analysis of alternatives (AoA) for its F/A-XX next-generation replacement for the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet starting in fiscal year 2015.

The new aircraft and its associated “family of systems” would be expected to become operational around 2035.

“We’re doing study work right now to neck down what it is that we’re going to spend our money on in the analysis of alternatives,” Rear Adm. Mike Manazir told USNI News on Dec. 20.
“But at the beginning of fiscal year ’15, we will start that analysis of alternatives, which will then start the acquisition process to get an airplane in 2030.”

The Navy does not yet know what kind of aircraft the F/A-XX will be, but the service is working on defining exactly what capabilities it will need when the Super Hornet fleet starts to exhaust their 9,000-hour airframe lives around 2035.

“Right now our effort is take the F/A-18E/F off and list everything you lose,” Manazir said. “Now, how do you service that?”

For example, the Super Hornet is regularly used as a tanker. But if another jet like the Navy’s future Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) aircraft can fulfill that role—and sufficient numbers of that aircraft are procured—the F/A-XX would not be required perform the aerial refueling tanker mission.

Though the Navy does not yet have a concrete vision for what the F/A-XX might ultimately turn out to be, there are certain attributes the service must have.

“You have to have something that carries missiles, you have to have something that has enough power and cooling for directed energy weapons and you have to have something that has a weapons system that can sense the smallest radar cross-section targets,” Manazir said. The F/A-XX family of systems might also incorporate the use of cyber warfare capabilities at a tactical level.

The Navy would develop the F/A-XX having fully understood the capabilities the Lockheed Martin F-35C Joint Strike Fighter and UCLASS bring to the carrier air wing.

“We’re looking to replace the F/A-18E/F with an understanding already of what the F-35C has brought to the air wing, what the UCLASS mission set is,” Manazir said.
The Navy is working very closely with the U.S. Air Force—which is working on its own F-X replacement for the Lockheed F-22 Raptor–on developing the F/A-XX.

“We’re completely stitched together with the Air Force,” Manazir said. “We’re looking at joint capabilities and cooperative capabilities that would be the same in the airframe.”
The Air Force and Navy aircraft would share weapons and sensor technologies, even if they are different airframes. One particular area of close cooperation is aircraft propulsion where the two services are collaborating on advanced variable-cycle engine technology.

“We’re very cooperative on engine technology,” Manazir said. “Of course, they want to go long distances very fast, and so their airframe looks a little different from ours. We want to have those same attributes, but we have to get in on and off the carrier.”

But ultimately whatever the F/A-XX turns out to be, it will be designed defeat most dangerous of adversaries anywhere on the globe.

“We definitely need to maintain overmatch of the adversary by bringing those effects to the battlespace with whatever is on the aircraft carrier,” Manazir said.

  • Pat Gang

    As I recall the classic P-51 Mustang was designed and a prototype rolled out in something like 120 days WITHOUT CAD/CAM, etc. The F6F Hellcat went from blank paper to rollout in six months or so. Could someone explain why, in the name of All that is Holy, is it going to take TWENTY-TWO YEARS to design and build a new strike fighter??? Are we saying our current crop of aerospace engineers are substandard compared to Kindleberger, Heinemann, and Grumman? I understand modern aircraft are more complex, etc., but still …

    • FD

      The short answer is that the FAR, DFARS, NMCARS, and local command regulations and policies all regulating the process did not exist back then.

      • Pat Gang

        So what you’re saying is that we will probably lose the first and last battles of the next war because the bureaucrats and their Congressional enablers must be appeased?

        • Little Franks

          No because its not going to happen. They do not even have carriers to stage a war and its not like were aiming to go to China or Russia and bomb them is it. End of story.

          • infocyde

            Really Little Franks? Oh but you declared it end of story. Thus debate is now closed. You embarrass the Skunk Works logo you use as an avatar. F-18 replacements will fight more than just naval aircraft as the penetrate into land to do what their missions are, and Chinese and Russian development cycles of less than five years means whatever comes out of end pipe of this development process will most likely be obsolete. Chinese and Russians actually do sell aircraft to others, so it won’t just be them we are worried about. I am relieved that you view them as no threat, maybe we should just not have a military anymore? Unfortunately the Chinese and the Russians view us as a threat and expect and prepare for future conflicts with Americans.

      • OldNavy207

        You’re absolutely right, and you can add to this list the DoDI 5000.02. Our current acquisition process is designed to be slow, deliberate and expensive. It also guarantees full employment for an army of bureaucrats, whose votes a critical for some of our politicians (Steny Hoyer comes to mind).

        • infocyde

          This crap can’t stand. This has to end.

    • Matthew Hipple

      We’re saying that the process is now more important than the product.

    • IronButterfly

      The F-35, the largest defense budget item to every exist, will completely suck all of the dollars out of the room for the next 40 to 50 years. Expect the next Navy fighter around 2050 or 2060, if then.

    • james

      True, the development times are crazy long now. Don’t forget the P51 was a dog until they put the Merlin in it though, so developing planes wasn’t easy back then either.

      • infocyde

        But at least they fielded something and started teething it and saw the need to modify it. Heck at this rate things won’t even be off the power point spread sheets for 15 years.

  • Matthew Hipple

    So, we’re basically admitting the F-35 was a waste of time. Thank god.

    • harvest

      How? The F-35C replaces the legacy F/A-18 and complements the F/A-18 E/F. The F/A-XX replaces the F/A-18 E/F. This article says nothing about lack of F-35 capability leading to the F/A-XX program. It’s one thing to dislike a program based on facts and test results, but I think that you’ve jumped a bit far with your assertion.

      • Matthew Hipple

        You just answered your own question. They kept the F-18 for ages with new versions up to F because it was well designed and the Navy loves it. They can’t already say they’re looking to escape routes from the F-35, but that’s exactly what this sounds like. The F-18 is the Navy’s mainstay, and that is what the F-35 was supposed to be. Now it’s not.

        • harvest

          Matt,
          A bit of ‘reading between the lines’ has drawn you off course here. The F/A-XX (or next generation air dominance NGAD) requirement was originally announced by the USN in 2008. It has always been intended as a platform to supersede the E/F. The lifetime of the Rhino airframe is finite and it would be folly to not plan a replacement. The F-35C was never intended to replace every airframe on the flight deck across the Fleet. If you’d like to call the program a waste of time due to schedule, cost, etc., that’s fine. However, if you’d like to call it a waste of time due to it not being able to fill it’s intended role leading to this ‘new’ requirement for a follow-on to the Rhino, I’d suggest you wait for a single Operational Test phase to be completed or talk to someone who has first-hand knowledge of the program vice believing what you read on the internet.

          • Little Franks

            I hope it has a better hanger to air time ratio than the F 22.

          • estuartj

            Dead on, different set of mission metrix for replacing a F-18D vs a F-18E/F. It’s also very possible that the eventual E/F replacement will be a evolution of the F-35 airframe.

          • IronButterfly

            So what will be the mix of F-35 to F-18s on a carrier and what will be the role differences?

          • harvest

            That’d be a question for the Chief of Naval Aviation.

  • RJ Chesnut Jr.

    The Navy variant of the F-22 should be built. The F-35 is a dog in wet weather.

  • ELP

    The F-35C has brought absolutely nothing to the carrier air wing.

    • harvest

      True. It doesn’t IOC for another four-ish years. At that point, that statement may deserve a reexamination.

      • Cocidius

        Since we’re talking about the IOC of the F-35, it should also be noted that the JSF has been in development for almost 13 years without a go to war product.

        Can an aircraft that’s taken almost two decades to implement still be relevant?

        • Little Franks

          They could go to war now and do what their designed to do. That is go into enemy space and bomb the enemy with low chance of detection. So far the bombing tests have all been a success: bombs on target! They could move forward the tail-hook tests to tomorrow and have them on a carrier by next week bombing whom ever you like while all the rest of the testing continues. My two cents anyways!

  • Phoenix07

    Replace them with armed UAVs….much cheaper and just as effective.

    • Ctrot

      As it is turning out UCAV’s are not much cheaper than manned aircraft.

    • Matthew Hipple

      We need an effective way of instilling autonomy first. Remote jet-fighters would be useless in a conventional EW denial environment.

      • Phoenix07

        there seems to be growing interest in fielding robots on the ground, sea, & air. Combating the EW threat will, I suspect, be part of the effort to ensure functionality of such measures. As Ctrot mentions, cost will also play a key factor. These things better be “cheap”.

        • Little Franks

          just kill all the EW threats as you can and impose OC at the same time. If they want to siege defence then just wear down their defences. That was a major strategy by ground forces against the Germans offence. Hitting their guns etc but the Germans had a good offence these guys do not. After 3 months they will start converting to Islam.

  • Rhyolite

    We need a SpaceX for fighter aircraft. The F/A-18 has roots in the 70s so starting a replacement is a no-brainer – but why a 20 year development cycle? It will be half obsolete by the time it is fielded. We need leaner and faster development programs. It is certainly possible. We have seen SpaceX run circles around Lockheed and Boeing in the launch market – some one should be able to do the same with fighters.