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Navy Taps Industry in Quest For Next Generation Fighter

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

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

The U.S. Navy has formally asked the defense industry to participate in a series of exchanges to provide technical insights into the next-generation replacement for the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the EA-18G Growler in the 2030s.

The exchanges, which have been dubbed Technical Interchange Meetings (TIMs), are a precursor to a full-up analysis of alternatives (AOA) for the F/A-XX strike fighter aircraft replacement program that is expected to start in 2015.

The meetings are expected to focus on several areas including affordability and modifying current jets like the Super Hornet and Lockheed Martin F-35C to meet the F/A-XX requirement according to a posting on the Federal Business Opportunities website. Other options that the Navy will explore include a completely new aircraft design or a family of systems (FoS) approach. There will also be meetings to discuss mission systems, avionics and new next-generation weapons systems for the F/A-XX.

Navy officials are already planning on meeting with advanced development teams from Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman. But the Navy is not limiting itself to consulting just the traditional engineering teams, the service is going out of its way to think outside the box in an effort to not only reduce the cost of a future F/A-XX fighter, but also to make it more effective.

“The platform itself may or may not be a new one, nor focused on manned or unmanned,” one Navy official said.
“Rather it truly is going to look at filling a void from a FoS approach informed by future budgets.”

One of the options that the Navy will likely explore is a minimum cost approach F/A-XX that would carry high cost, very high performance weapons that could defeat the most dangerous projected future threats.

Under the Navy’s vision for its Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) battle network, an individual platform would not necessarily need to have a full suite of sensors—rather it could rely on off-board data. Data-linked information from another platform in the air such as the Northrop Grumman E-2D or at sea like an Aegis cruiser or destroyer could provide targeting information or even guide a weapon launched from a platform like a future F/A-XX.

“So the F/A-XX may show up as something that is a Hornet-like aircraft with new weapons that can strike further and allow the Navy to fight its way into an AOR [Area of Responsibility] – maximizing the range of its weapon systems with linked fire control,” a Navy official said.
“As it stands now with NIFC-CA not implemented yet, our missiles can go further than we can tell them to.”

Thus, the F/A-XX air vehicle might be more of a “truck” carrying a “payload” rather than a fully integrated weapons platform like a Super Hornet or F-35 that can find, fix, track, target, engage, and assess on its own.

That would be in keeping with Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert’s mantra of “payloads over platforms.”

That said, in late 2013, Rear Adm. Mike Manazir, the Navy’s director of air warfare, told USNI News that the F/A-XX would carry missiles, have the required power and cooling for directed energy weapons and sensors target the smallest radar cross-section targets. Manazir also said the F/A-XX family of systems might incorporate the use of cyber warfare capabilities at a tactical level—which the Navy is currently exploring.

The Navy is working closely with the U.S. Air Force, which is also working on its own next-generation F-X tactical aircraft program to replace the Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor and Boeing F-15C Eagle air superiority fighters. While the two services are working closely together, there are still significant differences that need to be overcome.

One example of where there is significant disagreement is engine technology. The Air Force is very bullish on the performance of next-generation adaptive-cycle jet engine technology, but the Navy is not. Naval Air Systems Command engineers are not convinced that the Air Force Research Laboratory’s claims about the advantages of adaptive-cycle engines will scale to meet the Navy’s requirements or provide any real benefit for a carrier-based fighter. Meanwhile, the Air Force is all but convinced that adaptive-cycle engines are the way of the future.

  • Chesapeakeguy

    Also, the Navy is requiring that the ‘fly away’ price per plane does not exceed $10 billion.

  • Michael Kern

    RADM Nasty Manazir protect NAVAIR from itself please, “Payloads over platforms?” They want to resurrect the Douglas F6D Missileer idea again.

    • Secundius

      @ Michael Kern.

      We have to deal with the NOW, not the WHAT THEN. There are any number of aircrafts we could resurrect from the Grave, but that takes time. We could also design and build from scratch. But, then were looking at least 10-years into the FUTURE. We don’t have the PAST to fall back on, and we don’t have the FUTURE, too look forward too. We have the NOW, and, only the NOW in our immediate future.

  • Western

    Hmmm, payloads over platforms. Can the A-10 be modified for carrier landings?

    • Secundius

      @ Western.

      Don’t need too, Just modify the S-3 Viking to preform the duties of an A-10!!!

      • Key attributes for the F/A-XX program under this scenario are going to be range, payload and IMO Speed, but what does a carrier based aircraft with an unrefueld combat radius of ~1500nm, supercruise capability (one key will be getting to/from the launch point as fast as possible to leverage ISR assets that are going to be at very high risk) & carry enough Standoff Weapons to make the trip worthwhile? My guess is something of the size of an F-14 or A-5 Vigilante.

        • And getting to the point above, can you really produce an engine capable of that kind of performance in that kind of airframe? and even if it’s possible, does it explode your cost matrix (even if you’re talking a minimum stealth airframe – which is also doubtful)

      • OLD GUY

        Sorry,S, but that’s utter nonsense.

        • Secundius

          @ OLD GUY.

          Why not, there both Low and Slow. And at the very least the Viking was designed for Carrier Landings and Take-Off’s. The Warthog wasn’t.

    • OLD GUY

      A-10s can operate from carriers. Their landing speed is almost low enough to do without arresting gear; but a bit (about a 75#) forging in the aft fuselage can tie the hook into the last 3 bulkheads. The design exists.

  • NavySubNuke

    On engines: The air force is obsessed with the latest and greatest technology even if it isn’t better than the old technology and costs a lot more? Shocking! Too bad NavAir doesn’t have the balls to cancel the Navy version of the JSF and just buy more Super Hornets – the country would be better off in the long term.

    • vegass04 .

      Oh come on.. Hornets are almost not survivable in todays enviorment, let alone in any kind of future near peer conflict. It is simply not stealthy enough, doesnt have the range,and again we are talking in todays enviorment that is changeing by the day (passive radars, advanced ASMs, etc…) So you are implying that US Navy should stick with a 30 year old airframe for another 30 years?? That is ridiculous.

      • NavySubNuke

        Given the choice between a 30 year old airframe that works and one that doesn’t – yes. Oh and yes I am sure it is all going to work just fine in a few more years – after a few more billion dollars that is.
        Also, the stealth of the plane itself is a moot point since it is unlikely we will move the carrier close enough to get either Hornets or JSFs into range of a tier 1 adversary (say a Russia or China). Against anyone else (say an Iran or Syria) the Hornet is more then adequate.

        • vegass04 .

          Well i can be little more objective since it’s not my millions. And again I have to disagree on a stealth jet ability to come close to China or Russia. I would say stealth is the integral part of ability to come close to near peer adversary’s shore. And what about the industrial base. You would really allow the other side to invest in stealth tech (J-20,PAK-FA,J-31) and you being the one left behind?? And all that from the position of being number one? C mon, now you’re trolling right?? You can hear Russians saying that stealth is useless and unnecessary for 30 years and then all of a sudden puff – we got one developing. Sorry Russkies, you were kind off out of the game for couple of decades.

  • OLD GUY

    10 billion? WOW! I must repeat the prophetic words of Norm Augustine,”At this rate we will only be able to afford one airplane!.” C’mon kids, this has gotten ridiculous.

  • Aviator_Guy

    2015 air to air combat… F-35 with no internal weapons vs a two seat F-16 with external tanks… F-16 defeated the F-35… The Navy needs to push up this advanced fighter project.