The first 5th generation fighter, Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor, entered active military service with the United States Air Force in December of 2005, a few short weeks before Christmas. Eight years (and Christmases) later, we’re still in awe of the capabilities of the Raptor, both of what we do know about it and what we don’t. Built as an air superiority, multirole stealth fighter, no other aircraft in the world comes close to this marvel of engineering. Eight years.
Now, in a year’s time, the US Navy’s Next Generation Air Dominance (F/A-XX) program will kick into high gear, bringing about a brand new air superiority fighter to replace the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. Concurrently, the Air Force will run their Next Gen TACAIR (Next Generation Tactical Aircraft F-X) program that will likely field many of the same technologies and abilities of NGAD’s final product, replacing the F-15 C/D/E Eagle/Strike Eagle series of fighter and possibly the F-22 in USAF service. Enter the 6th generation.
What exactly would go into a 6th gen fighter? As the program is still a year away from going into full swing, according to the USNI, all of what we figure about the subject is pure conjecture revolving around a few main requirements posed by the Navy (and Air Force with NG TACAIR). The new fighter has to able to excel in air superiority, ground attack and reconnaissance missions, built on a stealth platform. One would expect a 6G fighter to be put together with lessons learned from the previous generation in mind. Interestingly enough, the we’re still in the infancy of the 5th generation, so our knowledge of current strengths and flaws in 5G fighters is pretty limited thus far. Compared to, say the 4th generation F-15 which has been flying since the 1970s and has seen combat on numerous occasions. The Raptor, its original intended replacement, was built upon the lessons the USAF learned through ample usage of the Eagle in peacetime and in war. Currently, that luxury of time and experience has yet to fully foster, so patience is key. Another question many have been asking, especially with the rise of drones, is whether or not 6G fighters will be manned. The Russian and Israeli Air Forces have both expressed interest in creating unmanned fighters and deploying them as their mainstays sometime down the road. However, there are positives and negatives that come up in this debate, the result leaning more towards the negative side of things. All that being said, hypothetically, we could probably guess with a degree of accuracy that the new F-X and F/A-XXs will probably feature some (or all) of the following:
– Next-generation electronic attack package
-Improved radar systems
-Directed-energy weaponry (DEW)
-Advanced data-sharing abilities