Home » Aviation » Navy Seeking ‘Family of Systems’ to Replace Super Hornets, Growlers; Sheds F/A-XX Title

Navy Seeking ‘Family of Systems’ to Replace Super Hornets, Growlers; Sheds F/A-XX Title

Two U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets from Strike Fighter Squadron 31 fly a combat patrol over Afghanistan on Dec. 15, 2008. US Air Force Photo

Two U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets from Strike Fighter Squadron 31 fly a combat patrol over Afghanistan on Dec. 15, 2008. US Air Force Photo

The Navy’s replacement for its Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fleet may not just be a single aircraft but several systems to fill the strike and air warfare missions in the carrier air-wing.

In January, the service kicked off its requirements study for the Next Generation Air Dominance program — the effort formerly known as F/A-XX – that could produce a family of NGAD systems to replace the capability of the Super Hornets and the electronic attack EA-18-G Growler in the 2030s, service officials told USNI News in a Thursday statement.

Additionally, the Navy is moving out on the Super Hornet replacements separate from the Air Force’s F-X program to replace its fleet of Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor air superiority fighters.

The Navy director of air warfare (N98), Rear Adm. Mike Manazir, told USNI News last year the service was considering partnering with the Air Force’s for a joint Air Force-Navy analysis of alternatives for the F-X and F/A-XX.

On Thursday the service said while it would share information with the Air Force, it wouldn’t be conducting a joint AoA for F-X and NGAD.

“The two services intend to utilize common analytical tools and methods, and will share information across the studies,” read the statement provided to USNI News.
“This approach is designed to ensure interoperability and leverage opportunities for common technology investments.”

In a Wednesday written statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Department of the Navy aviation heads said January’s start to NGAD AoA – which followed approval of the initial capabilities document by the Joint Chiefs of Staff — would consider not only manned, but unmanned and optionally manned airframes.

The effort is also evaluating modifications “evolutionary or incremental” aircraft in inventory, derivations of legacy platforms and all-new designs with an emphasis on replacing the capability of the Super Hornets and the Growlers instead of wedding itself to a one-for-one replacement of the airframes.

The break with the Air Force in a joint development of NGAD’s system speaks to a lingering cultural difference between the Air Force and the Navy in tactical air development.

The Air Force has traditionally favored faster and stealthier manned platforms – like the F-22. The Navy focuses development on the ability of tactical aviation to field and deliver payloads.

In early 2015, then-Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert said the follow-on to the Super Hornets would likely rely less on stealth and speed and would ideally be expandable to include evolving weapons systems.

“I don’t want to necessarily say that [stealth is] 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,” he said.
The Super Hornet follow-on “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… Today it’s radar but it might be something more in the future.”

The Navy has also been more vocal than the Air Force on pushing unmanned systems in the realm of tactical aviation.

At last year’s 2015 Navy League Sea-Air-Space symposium, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said that the Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter could be the last purely manned strike fighter.

“Unmanned systems, particularly autonomous ones, have to be the new normal in ever-increasing areas,” Mabus said.
“For example, as good as it is, and as much as we need it and look forward to having it in the fleet for many years, the F-35 should be, and almost certainly will be, the last manned strike fighter aircraft the Department of the Navy will ever buy or fly.”

Manazir has said the lessons of the F-35Cs integration onto the carrier air wing and the enhanced sensor capability will inform the service’s replacement to the Super Hornets and Growlers.




  • They had their chance to replace the F-14 in the 1990s; they failed

  • RobM1981

    If Admiral Greenert’s statements are accurate, then they prophesize doom for the F-35, and I think he’s spot on.

    Low Observables are becoming akin to streamlining. First we put boots on the landing gear, then we make it retractable, etc. It’s no longer unique, and it’s no longer unstoppable. There are a lot of very talented people who do nothing but figure out how to defeat it.

    Which is why the combination of stealth, suppression, sensors, and the high-performance needed to survive while suppressing, is the key.

    And the F-35 only offers two of the four. It is less maneuverable than the F-16. It can’t carry the same payload – if it does, it is totally non-stealth. It is slow.

    The F-22 could do it all, which is why it’s a great plane. Flawed, but in ways that will be fixed. The F-35 is simply too dependent upon LO and sensors, which is madness.

    The Admiral is correct. We need stealth, yes, but not at the expense of speed, maneuverability, sensors and payload. We need suppression. And we need to get humans out of harm’s way as much as possible.

    • Phil Verhey


      1. Needs to haul large amounts of payload, the F-35C can haul more payload than any other fighter.

      2. Doesn’t need to go crazy fast, the F-35C’s sprint speed is mach 1.6 and it gets there from military speed faster than any other jet save F-22A

      3. THE F-35 actually maneuvers in combat better & more aggressively than the F-16 (check Norwegian pilot blog)

      4. The F-22A can’t do it all and the F-35 isn’t dependant on LO, that’s EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE! The F-22A can’t carry external stores and it’s capabilities cut due to expense… the F-35abc all can perform the EA-18G mission without modification, can carry external stores, has advanced IRST, AEOTS, DAS, etc … all because it WOULDN’T be reliant on LO , it’s cognitive A.I. is there (in part) for emmision control… that’s comms-to-electronic attack & jamming … matching the variable frequency of new ground radars… the F-22A can’t do that and is reliant on LO much more than the F-35abc jets.

      4. The F-35 family is faster and can accelerate faster than the F-16 with an even greater payload … check your facts

      5. You can’t moan about relying on LO in 1 sentance than b*tch that the F-35 can optionally carry external stores in the next… not without being a hypocrite

      6. Everything that you youself typed “prophesies” the F-35C’s success in the navy … and just illustrates why the navalised F/A-22 never happened …

      • sferrin

        Wasting your breath.

      • Curtis Conway

        Your just made the case to upgrade F-22 to F-35 combat system standard and reopen the assembly line.

  • @USS_Fallujah

    It seems the USN has finally relearned the lesson it forgot after the F-111 fiasco. Different services with different requirements and different doctrine require different platforms. Also, a fighter that is a jack of all trades is a master of none. If I had to take a guess I’d think they first derivation of this on the decks will combine a manned high stealth, primary Strike/ISR, asset with an unmanned (or series of same) aircraft as “Arsenal” planes, tankers, ISR/Patrol (& ASW?). It’s even possible the fleet air defense roll will go to an unmanned (or optionally manned?) aircraft capable of carry large numbers or long range AAMs (a 21st century Phoenix perhaps) that can fire either from it’s own radar tracks or from the E-2D.

  • B.J. Blazkowicz

    The Navy has needed replacements for the F-14, A-6 and A-7 long before retiring them. With the delays of the F-35C and Congress asking for more F-22s. NAVAIR are starting to realize that multirole platforms are a liability.
    In fact we shouldn’t need to retire Super Hornets at all. Just upgrade them into Growlers. EA platforms don’t need to be front line attack/fighter aircraft.

    • Curtis Conway

      The fact of the matter is, the more missions a single airframe can do, the better off the CVW is. More solutions with more versatile airplanes. With the loss of the F-14 Tomcat we lost our long range Mach 2 platform with long legs, and a diverse combat portfolio (Bomb Cat). That platform, coupled with the E-2D, and a decent tanker (which we do not have), provides the fleet with options that simply do not exist today.

  • b2

    Does this allude to acquiring “purpose built” airframes and systems like the VA, VS and VF aircraft of the 70, 80 and 90’s- unmanned all? Sorry I can’t believe that as realistic, IMO we don’t have the industrial base nor the talent and especially resources to do accomplish this on this end of the century. I am not Nostradamus but if our track record to date is any indication…
    When you retire a platform like the S-3 with half it’s service life left for convenience, watch the strike fighter community use up it’s service life without effective sustainment and politely accept the F-35C despite not wanting it, select the V-22 for COD duties and then come up with CBARS (tanker first) as a panacea to reduce some of the VFA workloads; IMO that displays an anguished search for something tangible and operationally viable that isn’t there and feasible…
    This roadmap is full of potholes and north is south. I am aware of the Teddy Roosevelt metaphor about “the man in the ring”- I am not, however carrier aviation is being knocked out and I hate to see it happening real time.

    • Curtis Conway

      With ASW rearing its head again, the need for a longer range, more capable COD (F-35 F135 in its transport container), tanker, and an E-2 replacement airframe in the next decades, one would think we could lay out that plan. The US Navy tried to do that some years ago and was shot down. We suffer for it.

  • Ed L

    Could they go the keep it simple route, build a plane the price of the A-4 with flight abilities of the F-18 and the bomb hauling ability of the A-6. I mean the F-5 freedom fighter is a hot little number. The F-20 Tigershark flown by Yeager, He said it was a good Plane.

    • sferrin

      Sure, if they don’t mind losing.

      • Ed L

        What if with today’s tech say the Government builds 4,000 aircraft and in One of Four a pilot monitor and runs other three. So when being attacked, he keeps one to watch his six and the other two unmanned fighters take 10 g’s plus turns and smoke the enemy. or a two seat aircraft watches over a whole squadron of unmanned fighters. But the think is to make all of them look alike, including the manned plane

  • Jim DiGiacomo

    It seems to me air superiority platforms also make acceptable ground attack aircraft. Prime examples are the F-86, F-100, F-4, F-15, F-16 and even the F-14 in its later years. Aircraft designed for ground attack like the A-6, A-10 and F-35 are limited to one mission.
    Also the Russians seem to be able to modify air force planes like the MIG-29 and the SU-27 for use on carriers, why can’t we do the same. The navy could use a long range strike aircraft like the F-15E.

    • sferrin

      “Aircraft designed for ground attack like the A-6, A-10 and F-35 are limited to one mission.”

      Fail. The F-35 is not a single-mission aircraft.

      • Ricardo Gomes

        you are right it was a second mission, be a target practice.

    • Curtis Conway

      US Navy aircraft can perform mission sets as USAF aircraft can. However, to bring that USAF platform aboard ship for a career of performance requires engineering in the platform that is required for the rigors of carrier operations. US Navy F-4 Phantom IIs could double as USAF aircraft (fighter & attack). The converse will most likely never be true until both services embrace VSTOL/STOVL technology airframes, or the airframe begins life as a USN fighter.

    • Ricardo Gomes

      you think they didnt try it? it didnt work.

    • Secundius

      Russian/ex-Soviet Planes are Designed to Operated from Rough Improvised Fields of Operations, OUR’s (the USA) ARE NOT…

  • The_Usual_Suspect61

    Mabus says a lot of things…most of them stupid.

    • Rob C.

      Yeah, i think more “Keep Manned Fighters, promote more Unmanned Automated Politicians.”
      Saying F-35 is end of the line is premature, there need for manned planes.

      I just hope there provisions in the next aircraft to be able to accommodate both needs. Unmanned and manned aircraft.

      • Ricardo Gomes

        the problem with drones is they can be hacked, iran prove it allready.

  • Secundius

    There’s also a Rumor about adding Three Additional Models to the F-35 JSF Existing “Family Tree”…

    • Porty1119

      Where did you hear that from?

      • Secundius

        Lockmart, themselves? An F-35D, Interceptor for the USAF, the F-35I, a Tandem Seat Strike Fighter for Israel, and I’ve Forgotten what the Last Model Was! It’s been more than a Year Ago…

  • Secundius

    The National Defense Authorization Act of 2017, has been Allocated ~$610-Billion USD…

  • Aussie Andrew

    Essential reading of this website;
    “Air Power Australia”
    Gives odds of survival of F-22 and F-35 against Chinese J-20 and Russian PAK-FA.
    Pentagon will not be happy.

  • Chubbywan

    I would like to see a quick “inexpensive” somewhat clean sheet design based off the old two seat A-7 and use it as an EA/Tanker/Attack Platform. Then rotate the F-18’s en masse to preform major electronic/airframe upgrades. Build 25 of them for the cost of 1 F-35.
    Don’t forget……Keep it Simple Stupid!

  • lugnutmstr

    I’m not an admiral but seems to me stealth was never invisible. Stealth was supposed to make it harder to lock missiles on them along with jamming. I know of only one stealth aircraft shot down since they been around.