Home » Aviation » Lockheed Martin Skunk Works Chief: U.S. Next Generation Fighters Need Stealth

Lockheed Martin Skunk Works Chief: U.S. Next Generation Fighters Need Stealth

This is a Lockheed Martin concept for a sixth-generation concept aircraft to replace the F-22 Raptor. Lockheed Martin Illustration

This is a Lockheed Martin concept for a sixth-generation concept aircraft to replace the F-22 Raptor. Lockheed Martin Illustration

CRYSTAL CITY, VA. – Stealth – the technology that masks aircraft and ships from enemy radars – needs to be an integral part of the next generation of U.S. fighter aircraft, the head of Lockheed Martin’s secretive Skunk Works division told reporters on Wednesday.

The Navy and the Air Force both are conducting early developmental work into each service’s next fighters past their latest crop – the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) and the F-22 Raptor. Those new fighters – Navy’s F/A-XX and the Air Force’s F-X – will need stealth, Rob Weiss said during the Lockheed Martin Media Day.

“Stealth is and will remain foundational to any new airplane design and I will assert that based on the threat analysis we’ve done the technology assessments that we’re making,” he said.
“Anybody who would suggest that stealth is past its value really isn’t just looking at the data.”

Weiss was responding to a reporter’s questions on comments made by Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert who called into question the efficacy of stealth for fighters operating in contested environments.

“You know that stealth maybe overrated,” Greenert said during a keynote two weeks ago 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.”

The Navy has been slow to adopt stealth to protect its fighters in contested airspace, relying more on electronic warfare platforms like the Boeing EA-18G Growler with a concept of operations (CONOPs) based on suppressing enemy air defenses (SEAD) rather than evading enemy air defenses with stealth aircraft.

The F-35C carrier variant is the Navy’s first production carrier stealth fighter and the service has said it will be an important component in the Navy’s Naval Integrated Fire Control Counter Air (NIFC-CA) as a forward sensor node to relay targeting information back to shooters in a Carrier Strike Group

Though stealth will be important for the F-35’s NIFC-CA role, Greenert said stealth or speed may not be for the replacement to the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet – F/A-XX, Greenert said.

USNI News understands the Navy is looking for an aircraft that will be able to carry a significant weapons payload and work as a beefy anti-air warfare platform.

Stealth should be part of that design, Weiss said.

“That doesn’t mean that that is going to be everything that it brings to the game, electronic attack capability is going to be — and is — a critical part of survivability of airplanes today and will continue to be in the future. But there’s no scenarios I see where you’re going to design a new airplane to operate in a contested environment that’s not going to be grounded in stealth,” he said.
“The data clearly shows that an airplane designed to be stealthy will carry the day in lethality and survivability versus one that’s not.”

The Navy is currently in the analysis of alternatives (AoA) process for F/A-XX and the program is scheduled to enter the fleet around 2030.

Lockheed Martin and Super Hornet builder Boeing have both indicated they’ll likely compete for the business.

  • David Pennington

    Let’s do something different; wait until China or Russia build something revolutionary and steal their secrets. Hmmmmmmm……

    • sferrin

      Yes, let’s wait until they’re ahead of us then steal from them. Brilliant plan.

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  • omegatalon

    The argument against what Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert about how stealth and supersonic speed not being necessary is that stealth and Mach 2.0+ speed could give a jet time unless Russia or China have 3D inertial mass sensors where they can detect any aerial disruption as possibly be from the movement from a stealth jet, these two components can give a pilot time to execute his mission before detection.

    • RedStatePatriot

      I think his argument is that with the advance of high-speed longer-range missiles and better aircraft detection methods, stealth and speed will not be as important to future aircraft design. The future may be for larger slower aircraft that carry more standoff smart weapons, and depend more on electronic jamming (think FA18 Growler). Your enemy may know you are there, but you will counter that with the ability to thwart his weapon systems with electronics while using your own advanced weapons to destroy him. The navy has been saying this for a while now, that is why they are pushing the Growler, and have opposed the F35.

  • bring_it_on

    Isn’t Al Romig the head of skunk works, or has he retired?

  • Ctrot

    So long as stealth characteristics gives an aircraft any reasonable amount of detection avoidance advantage over non stealth aircraft, stealth will (or should) remain a factor in future aircraft design. There will inevitably come a time when stealth aircraft are detectable at longer and longer ranges, but so long as that range is greater than for a comparable non stealth aircraft then that is an advantage worth having.

    • Which of course leads us to the internal debate within the US on if the semi-stealthy Advanced Super Hornet is a better investment than the F-35C. ASH adds some stealth elements and extended range, but nothing close to the range/stealth of the F-35C, but with a much larger payload and a significantly reduced cost….

  • mustard_gun

    “The data clearly shows that an airplane designed to be stealthy will carry the day in lethality and survivability versus one that’s not.”

    Bullsh1t. We lost a F-117 in ’99 over Bosnia. And the Serbs were using 1960s-era SAMs coupled with smart tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs).

    Stealth is clearly a path of diminishing returns. It has been for decades. One wouldn’t expect Skunk Works to say so. It is not in their interest.

    • RedStatePatriot

      You do realize that the F117 (1st gen stealth tech.) was only brought down with the aid of Russian experts and weeks of triangulating 3 radar sets within a know flight path (yes the airforce foolishly got lazy and flew the EXACT same flight path for months). To suggest that every military and advanced aviation expert is less knowlegable than you is silly. Also, to suggest that everyone involved in protecting the nation with advanced technology is a corrupt crimnal is childish. Go ahead and use the Lefts favorite phrase “Military Industrial Complex”… your funny.

      • BobaFett43

        Take THAT all you leftist fighter airplane designer sheeple!

      • mustard_gun

        So are you commenting on my post or just making stuff up?

        I did not suggest every military and aviation expert is less knowledgeable than me. In fact, others have pointed to how stealth is a path of diminishing returns. If the CNO says that stealth is perhaps over-rated, we should listen. He just might have some pretty smart folks advising him.

        Nor did I say Mr. Weiss was corrupt or criminal. But he does run an organization whose main role is to develop and manufacture stealth aircraft for the US military. What else would we expect him to say?

        Nor am I anti-military. I actually want a strong and numerous naval air arm. The best way to do that is not to invest in paths of diminishing returns. Stealth costs and not just in dollars.

        Look at the fiasco that is JSF. DOD “baked” stealth into the design. As a result we got an overpriced, under-armed, short-legged dog of a strike fighter – which will be extremely hard to maintain at sea. Any wonder that Navy support for F-35 has been lukewarm at best?

        • RedStatePatriot

          Well when you say that he is only pushing stealth because its in his company’s interest, that IMPLIES he is just saying it for money… perhaps you might want to look up the definition of corrupt. By the way, I had quite a lot of my career spent working the F35 and the idea that the plane sucks is just BS, but its nice to know you read the web for your information.

          Perhaps you should inform us of just exactly what programs to develop cutting edge aircraft didn’t have problems, if you think the F35 has them.

          I notice you didn’t address my comment about how the F117 was really brought down, and not as you suggested…

          • mustard_gun

            You were part of the “brain trust” behind F-35? Well – that explains an awful lot! Congratulations on your involvement in one of the biggest fiascoes in the history of defense acquisition. Or something.

            I think you are inferring that the F-35 is or was “cutting edge”. It might have been when first conceived. The problem is that the F-35 has been under development for the better part of 14 years. And. Still. Isn’t. Ready.

            In fact – by the time F-35C reaches IOC for the Navy in 2019 (maybe?) it will have been 18 years in development. So just imagine if the Navy had gone to war in 1942 with a biplane fighter designed in 1924.

            And let’s talk about the F-35C from Navy perspective:

            (1) It’s a single-engine aircraft. Common sense has shown that’s not a really good idea for over water ops.
            (2) Replacement/spare engines are too big to be carried in the C-2 COD. Oops.
            (3) Forgot to design a tail-hook that actually worked.
            (4) Maintaining stealth coatings in at sea will be a nightmare.
            (5) Radius of action is only slightly better than F/A-18E/F.
            (6) Thrust to weight is about the same as F/A-18E/F.
            (7) Same ordnance load as F/A-18EF. Less hard-points.
            (8) No built in gun. The podded 25mm will have 180 rds. 3-6 secs of ammo. Forget CAS. Or dogfighting.
            (9) It has a blind spot which according to at least one test pilot will get you killed every time.
            (10) Sensors are supposedly a generation behind our current fighter aircraft. And hows that 3D helmet working?

            My biggest problem with the F-35C is its cost. Unit cost for F-35C sitting at around $130M. That doesn’t include all the hidden costs Unit cost for the F/A-18E/F is sitting at about $60M.

            F-35C is an extremely poor investment given what we’re paying. We could’ve invested in all sorts of upgrades to F/A-18E/F and still filled up CVN decks. Quantity has a quality all its own.

            Lastly, please don’t try to pretend you’ve got inside knowledge on F-35 capes. I’ve flown gray airplanes, read OT reports, and talked to the folks in OPNAV. If Navy is so excited about the F-35C why are they investigating Plan B (F/A-XX)?

            PS – I’m not addressing your F-117 comments because they’re simply aren’t supported by the evidence.

          • J_kies

            As a sensors/phenomenology guy, I will say that the AN/AAQ-37 on the F-35 is going away the best overall sensor on that or other A/C. The fact that the helmet sucks is a problem of integration by the Prime. The other sensors are either ho-hum (APG-81) or more suited to artificial reef use (Electro-Optical Targeting System).

      • J_kies

        Humbug sir. If you sourced ITAR-TASS at the time the Russian claims were that the F117 tracking was performed by a used Warsaw Pact Czech ESM system of either the Ramona or Tamara vintage. E.g. no Russian experts and a couple hours of setup on a mobile system.

        If you bother to ‘Wiki’ the 1999 F117 shootdown; the Serb unit commander and other objective evidence dispute the Russian story. At a technical level; the ESM systems might be able to track ‘stealthy’ aircraft exhibiting normal combat TTPs.

        Getting nasty or insulting while you pretend insight that you clearly don’t have is a hallmark troll behavior. Perhaps your bridge misses you.

        • RedStatePatriot

          Well obviously the Russians would deny involvement… Come-on, really…. you think they would announce they were involved. So you are willing to take Russian news reports on Russian involvement in a clandestine war operation… OK, but I will pass on that one. “getting nasty or insulting” where exactly in my post did I do that? Pretty sure my “insight” is better than your own.

  • Michael Rich

    “The Navy as been slow”

  • SFjarhead

    sure…anytime you can make the passive design work in your favor, it’s worth it…question is, what waveform are you trying to be stealthy against? I have a feeling these future designs will look NOTHING like the flying facets or large curves we’re
    used to seeing.

    If airports can detect wind sheers, I believe anything with mass will always be detectable….whether we see the “object”, or the “effects” of the object on its environment….kinda like how we “see” a black hole.

  • CharleyA

    Clearly stealth has a place in future designs. The point the CNO was making is that there is an expense in terms of cost and performance that stealth technologies impart into aircraft design. Finding the right balance between passive stealth (baked into the design,) active measures (upgradable electronics, techniques, and tactics,) and weapons design is the way to move forward. Trying to build all the performance into the aircraft is the wrong way to go in terms of cost and perishability.

  • Guest

    … and Bruce Dickinson wants more cowbell.

    The problem here is the producer of incredibly expensive and difficult to maintain passive technology wants to continue the status quo. This is news?

    CNO’s premise is accurate. Improving and rapidly proliferating technology is allowing potential adversaries to detect stealth at longer ranges than ever before. Stealth has ever been about remaining “invisible” throughout the entire time of flight…. only to allow the platform to remain undetected long enough to impact the tactical situation without being destroyed.

    Our current bevy of high-tech/high-cost systems are the finest of any nation. But at what cost? Simply put, numbers…. There is a rationale for an alternative high/low mix of aircraft from a carrier. Perhaps an upgraded Super Hornet “truck” for a majority of missions and a few stealthy UAVs with long loiter times and ability to greatly expand the battlespace.

    Just my $0.02.

    • J_kies

      Incidentally the “Improving and rapidly proliferating technology” that pertains is ‘Moore’s Law’. Correlation processing and networked sensors mean the expectations of stealthy penetration ought to be significantly modified.

      Shape aircraft for RCS management as long as you don’t compromise other important characteristics. Avoid skins that require hanger time for the ‘Diva doing her nails’ to retain signature management and have dubious compatibility with maritime application.

  • Ruckweiler

    Isn’t this kinda obvious? Low observability is a basic requirement these days, isn’t it?

    • NavySubNuke

      It is but it is important to realize it is just one more tool in the tool kit and not the be all/end all it was once considered. Keep things stealthy when we can but don’t make it stealthy at the expense of range, payload, and maneuverability.

  • NavySubNuke

    “Anybody who would suggest that stealth is past its value really isn’t just looking at the data.”
    Stealth isn’t overrated based on the threats we face. Stealth is overrated based on the defenses and detection technologies the adversaries have developed.
    That doesn’t mean we should abandon all efforts at stealth – but it does mean we need to make stealth just one piece of the puzzle and not the biggest and most important piece. Take advantage of what stealth we can – but don’t allow a desire for stealth to drive extreme compromises in range, payload, or availability.

  • Okay, if we can somehow improve stealth to keep ahead of adversary counter-stealth developments, without driving up development timelines and cost to the point whereby the aircraft takes 20-30 years to develop and we can only afford 100 of them, then let’s keep stealth in the equation. Those are a lot of ‘if’s, and I think the big issue is whether adversary counter-stealth capabilities will progress faster than our development of stealth technologies can. Furthermore, the US should not fall into the trap it did with the F-35 of sacrificing performance and payload for stealth. Speed is very underrated, and relyuing on short to medium range platforms is a sure way to be at a disadvantage militarily. If everything is built around stealth – to the point that the US sacrifices other aspects of an aircraft performance and capability to maintain a narrow advantage in detectability, that’s a bad approach.

  • Rob C.

    Sounds like Lockheed is trying defend their investment into Stealth technology, wants charge more for it. Their track record hasn’t been good since F-22 and the F/A-35 are both not so great as advertised. Stealth should be a factor, but it should be the shooting match in design we need next.

  • DavidM

    I thought Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced recently that the F35 was going to be the last manned combat aircraft that his service was going to procure? Whatever happened to mixed forces increasingly emphasizing unmanned platforms? Also, whatever happened to designing a force posture in anticipation of permanently constrained budgets?

  • Chronicsmokemon

    It is only a matter of time before all of this stealth technology will be obsolete. There is going to be a new revolution in technology and aircraft detection that doesn’t rely on old radar. How about atmospheric molecular disturbance detection, or Quantum disturbance detection. Or how about Gravity disturbance detection. It is already a reality that a Quantum computer is possible, Imagine the possibilities.

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  • Franken

    Why wouldn’t we fly a missile truck at extended range and high altitude to pickle AIM-9 type weapons? I don’t see a future in manned vs manned engagements, nor should it be what we seek to achieve.

    • Padmmegh Ambrela

      The answer to your question is VIETNAM WAR early F4 Phantoms. Two opposing stealth fighters comes to merge because they are difficult to detect each other now what we have is a within visual range combat scenario. After ww2 and korean war USAF, USN and USMC has not faced an adversery who is equally capable or slitly inferior or superior enemy in the air. In war where an enemy uses all its assets you cannot depend on missile truck to achieve supermacy because in an integrated air defence missile accuracy will drop considerbly also with high chaces of physical destruction of the missile. That’s why one cannot depend only on one card. An airforce consisting of only ucav and missile trucks are more susceptible to electronic and cyber warfare without any backup.

  • lugnutmstr

    Russians and Chinese don’t want to have to go up against stealth aircraft. Trump is making sure of that.

  • Centaurus

    You mean Trump is going to make America THAT great, again ?
    I had absolutely no idea

  • Dennis Johnson

    Let’s see 1000, $1,000 dollar RC aircraft with high explosive warheads attacking a target at the same time that can maneuver around. Not enough missiles or bullets to shoot them all down with a 100% kill rate, overwhelming the enemy is the answer, it’s called a low tech answer to a high tech problem. Once on target it’s just a gravity drop to that target but without risking lives, much like kamikaze attacks during WWII.