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Navy and Air Force Planning Joint Exploration of Next Generation Fighter Follow Ons to F-22 and F/A-18E/F

F-22 Raptors deployed to Kadena Air Base, Japan, trained with US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets April 26, 2007, near the waters of Okinawa. US Navy Photo

F-22 Raptors deployed to Kadena Air Base, Japan, trained with U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets April 26, 2007, near the waters of Okinawa. US Navy Photo

The Navy and the Air Force could team up for their early look into their next crop of fighters due out in 2030, the Navy’s director of air warfare told USNI News on Thursday.

Starting next year, the two services are in a position to set out on a joint analysis of alternatives (AoA) for the follow on to Navy’s Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the Air Force’s Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor air superiority fighter, said Rear Adm. Mike Manazir to USNI News following a House Armed Service Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces hearing on combat aviation.

“We’re partnering with the Air Force in their F-X program,” he said.
“We are pressing forward — subject to guidance from [Office of Secretary of Defense] (OSD) — and we are looking at doing a joint analysis of alternatives (AoA) so we can look at similarities and differences. We’re allowed to take a joint AOA and then define a service solution that would be good for each service.”

As part of the Fiscal Year 2016 budget, the Navy has set aside $5 million to start the F/A-XX work — planned to replace the Super Hornets in the 2030s.

“We feel we need a replacement for the gaps that will occur when the F-18 E and F Super Hornet — and somewhat the [EA-18G Growler] as well — start to go away from their service life perspective in about 2030,” he said.

The AoA — for the Navy — will focus replacing the capabilities of the fighter with a wide-range of options.

“So what we would look at is everything — from an airframe, to a family of systems, to continuing something we already have flying, to capabilities that we already have in the air wing or the joint world — to asses what we really need to replace the Super Hornet,” Manazir said.

The AoA will run in parallel with several other design and technology efforts across several agencies.

“We’re advancing engine technology. We’re working with academia, industry, other services — the weapons labs in the services to advance that technology. We’re also advancing technology in outer mold lines for airframes for faster air speeds from traditional airframes — trying to make them go faster for the fight. Obviously broadband stealth and IR stealth, the capabilities we could put into coatings, ways you could use electromagnetic energy, ways that you could dominate the EM spectrum a little better,” Manazir said.
“All of those things are so vexing now, we’re advancing the technology to the point where we get into the development phase and evaluating alternatives — those technologies the hardest are advanced to a point to where we can start to use them.”

While a plethora of options exist for the program, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert expressed an outlook for a next generation fighter that would not be as dependent on stealth and speed but more on its ability to field future weapon systems.

“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 in February.
“Today it’s radar but it might be something more in the future.”

Part of the F/A-XX calculus will be based on how the Lockheed Martin F-35C Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) will function in the Navy’s carrier air wings.

The F-35C is understood to be a critical node in the Navy’s Naval Integrated Fire Control Counter Air (NIFC-CA) concept as a forward sensor node for the rest of the carrier strike group (CSG).

“We don’t even quite know what the F-35 is going to bring to us — that fifth generation capability — and when we start to integrate it with the other things we have in the air wing — the Growler, with E-2D, with Super Hornet — that integrated capability is greater than just what the platform can do,” Manazir said.
“It might be that we find things in the F-35 that will lend itself to the generation after that.”

  • NavySubNuke

    Hopefully they learned the lessons from JSF. There is nothing wrong with pursuing similar technologies and designs but don’t project all kinds of savings for being common and then choose not to be common.

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  • 2IDSGT

    The development cycle on all-new TACAIR platforms is 15 years from prototype first-flight to IOC, so it’s already way too late for 2030 unless a secret prototype is being flown this year.

  • akear

    Hopefully, another F-35 disaster can be avoided.

    • Secundius

      @ akear.

      The only disaster about the F-35 program was, who was actually doing the CHEATING. Boeing or Lockheed Martin…

  • Secundius

    What, another Pissing Contest, or who’s Rock’s Bigger Contest…

  • b2

    Yeah sure jump right in.. Another joint fiasco.
    F-35, F-111 same, same. At least with the F-111 the USN had the cojones then to stand solid for the F-14. A carrier plane is totally different than a USAF designed jet.
    Can’t we learn from our mistakes? Probably not. One or two engines? Internal gun? Most importantly- stealth? How much? Pilot optional? Don’t laugh, that is the kind of requirements geniuses today come up with.
    Well the one good thing that I can see is that the USMC ain’t part of this evolution and demanding a niche with a VSTOL variant thereby limiting the structural design..
    Wait I almost forgot. The USAF has totally bought into the F-35A as their one size fits all jet for F-15, F-16 and of course the A-10, correct? If so why should they be part of this evolution?
    This stinks already.

  • @NotRizzo

    The key is making sure this is a joint venture in exploring commonality and interoperability, NOT shoehorning both services requirements into a single airframe.
    If using the same engine, radar etc etc etc makes sense then great, let’s reduce cost and ensure commonality of parts, but you can do that in two airframes that look and act totally differently thus being optimized for their home service.

  • ELP

    Navy aircraft means extra weight to get on and off ship. Since it is doubtful there will be a swing wing, that will be compromised too in order to get on and off ship. Was OK for the A-7 and F-4 but that is about it for jointness. Consider that if the F-35 and Super Hornet face true emerging threats, they will get shot down.

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  • Jiesheng Li

    If they want joint,, pass it on to the UK, where the RAF controls all fix wing.

  • Ty Harris

    I thought the chairman of the joint chiefs has said that the f35 will almost certainly be our last manned fighter aircraft. If so, then why are they even planning an fx? I would think it would be cheaper, more lethal and more effective to have a massive drone swarm with f35s as sensor nodes and controllers in a hangar back at nellis.