WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Navy’s planned next generation fighter will likely rely less on the speed and stealth that has defined the current generation of U.S. tactical aircraft and could feature an unmanned option, the Chief of Naval Operations said on Wednesday.
CNO Adm. Jonathan Greenert described options for the next Navy fighter – the F/A-XX – that would overwhelm or suppress enemy air defenses instead of outrunning or hiding from threats.
“You know that stealth maybe overrated,” Greenert said during a keynote at the Office of Naval Research Naval Future Force Science and Technology Expo.
“I don’t want to necessarily say that it’s over but let’s face it, if something moves fast through the air and disrupts molecules in the air and puts out heat – I don’t care how cool the engine can be – it’s going to be detectable.”
That also may mean developing new weapons for future threats.
“It has to have an ability to carry a payload such that it can deploy a spectrum of weapons. It has to be able to acquire access probably by suppressing enemy air defenses, Greenert said.
“Today it’s radar but it might be something more in the future.”
As for speed, he said the proliferation of high-speed anti-air weapons could lead the Navy to develop an aircraft that would not need to travel at a high speeds.
“I don’t think it’s going to be super-duper fast, because you can’t outrun missiles,” he said.
Greenert also said the aircraft should have an option to be optionally manned.
“The weight that we put on an aircraft due to the pilot is kind of extraordinary. You take that off and put sensors on there instead,” he said.
“That’s my signal for modularity.”
Greenert’s comments come as the Navy scheduled to start the analysis of alternatives (AoA) for F/A-XX the aircraft to replace the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet stating in the 2030s. Lockheed Martin and Boeing have both released early concepts for F/A-XX
The Navy’s newest fighter – the F-35C Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) – does rely on stealth. USNI News understands its emerging role in the carrier air wing will be – in part – as a forward sensor node for the carrier strike group to relay targeting information via the Navy’s Naval Integrated Fire Control Counter Air (NIFC-CA) concept.
The Navy has said the F/A-XX will likely match or exceed the larger payload of the current Super Hornets.
“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,” Rear Adm. Mike Manazir told USNI News in late 2013.