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National Defense > Blog > Posts > Air Force Leader Wants More Aggressive Push for ‘Sixth-Gen’ Capabilities
Air Force Leader Wants More Aggressive Push for ‘Sixth-Gen’ Capabilities
By Jon Harper


 
The Air Force needs to more aggressively pursue a next-generation platform capable of penetrating deep into hostile airspace, the head of Air Combat Command said Feb. 24.
 
The primary focus now is on ramping up production of the F-35A joint strike fighter, a fifth-generation aircraft with stealth features and cutting-edge sensors. But the Air Force is already thinking about acquiring a sixth-generation “penetrating counter-air” capability, or PCA, that would have longer range and greater ability to outmatch the most sophisticated enemy air defense systems.
 
Service leaders aim to have this new technology in the fleet in the 2030s. “We should try to accelerate that left if at all possible,” Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle said at a breakfast with defense reporters in Washington, D.C.
 
The Air Force should procure more joint strike fighters than planned over the next five years and then pivot to a new system, he said.
 
“What I believe will happen is if we can increase the buy rate and continue to recapitalize our force with F-35s in the near term … then we can in the ‘20s look at that PCA,” he added. “We’ll be able to make a decision at that point where we’ll transition from [buying] more F-35s to a PCA, or we’ll transition to a different instantiation of the F-35” that is more advanced than the latest version.
 
The Air Force also needs a “penetrating electronic attack capability” that could potentially accompany the counter-air platform into enemy airspace, he said.
 
A sixth-generation system or family of systems might be unmanned and could be equipped with autonomous capabilities, he noted.
 
“There are things you can do with a penetrating platform that can probably use some unmanned [technology] … and would be either autonomous or semi-autonomous,” Carlisle said. “We’re looking at different ways to do that. But I do believe that there is some kind of platform that’s going to have to get an electronic [warfare] capability into the battlespace.”
 
The Air Force also needs to more rapidly acquire next-generation weapons for its newest aircraft, he said.
 
“We’re still flying with fourth-generation weapons on a fifth-generation platform,” he said. For F-22s, F-35s and a future penetrating counter-air system “we need weapons that are fifth- and sixth-gen that go with that.”
 
U.S. warplanes are not the only assets that are at risk from enemy air defenses, he noted. The weapons that they launch could also be destroyed.
 
“Not only does the airplane have to get into the theater to get to a range to deliver a weapon, but the weapon has to get to its target,” Carlisle said. “When you’re using fourth-generation weapons, the ability of the adversary to counter those weapons through a variety of means” is enhanced, he added. “You have to get something that can actually reach the target.”
 
The Air Force also is fleshing out the concept of a “survivable strike weapon” and related technologies to meet future needs, he said. Whether they would by hypersonic and rely on speed to outpace enemy air defenses, or rely on stealth to avoid detection, has yet to be determined, he told reporters.
 
The F-35 program has been plagued by cost overruns and schedule delays. Carlisle was asked if he was concerned that the headline-grabbing setbacks associated with the joint strike fighter would make lawmakers wary of funding an expensive sixth-generation system or family of systems in the next decade.
 
“I’m hoping that we the Air Force, we the Department of Defense, do a good enough job of spending time with Congress and talking to them about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it and why we’re doing it and staying engaged at the maximum level possible so that we can prevent that from happening,” he said.
 
One of the biggest problems with the F-35 program was the “concurrency” of the engineering and manufacturing development phase and the production phase, he noted. In hindsight, pursuing that acquisition path was probably a mistake, he suggested.
 
“We thought … we could do EMD ... at the same time we’re producing airplanes,” Carlisle said. “That caused some of the problems that we had to go back and fix.”
 
The Air Force will take lessons learned from the F-35, F-22 and B-21 Raider programs and apply them to the penetrating counter-air project, he added.

Photo: Pilots with the 33rd Fighter Wing prepare to take off during exercise Northern Lightning. (Air Force)

Comments

Re: Air Force Leader Wants More Aggressive Push for ‘Sixth-Gen’ Capabilities

Gen. Carlisle needs to reflect on the current state of US weapons development. Should the US Air Force be thinking about 6th generation aircraft, of course they should. Given the controversies surrounding the lastest long series of technological "hiccups" in advanced US weapon technologies, Gen. Carlisle would do better to keep his thoughts closer to his vest. No one is going to want to put their names and reputations on another F-35 project, or another LCS class ship or another DDG-1000 class Destroyer. We don't have the money for another series of 6th generation anything at the moment, no one wants to hear about. It doesn't mean he can't think about it, he should just be a bit more circumspect about discussing it in open forums...unless of course it's more about him and a desire to look like he's a smart forward planning kind of guy. It should be about doing what's best to move a forward thinking agenda and that's best done quietly.
RT Colorado at 2/25/2017 11:37 AM

Re: Air Force Leader Wants More Aggressive Push for ‘Sixth-Gen’ Capabilities

The United States Air Force always seems to get the nod when they want something special like the F-22.  The HiStory of that acquisition is now a program of record.  The A-12 Avenger was cancelled by SECNAV when it went over budget.  Now its the USN's turn to take the lead in fighter development, and the US Navy needs a new fighter bomber with capabilities that exceed that of the venerable F-14D Tomcat "Bombcat" to deal with the A2AD problem, and the USAF once again gets the nod to develop their own.  What gives?
Curtis Conway at 2/25/2017 6:43 PM

Re: Air Force Leader Wants More Aggressive Push for ‘Sixth-Gen’ Capabilities

The USAF has wanted a Sixth Generation fighter ever since the F-22 program started.  That's how DoD works...they build something and then they look ahead into the future concurrently.

The DoD consolidated all three different plane programs (USN, USMC, and USAF into the JSF program which eventually turned out into the F-35.  But the JSF was originally the VTOL USMC plane, just that the USN and USAF jumped aboard, and hence all these compromises that the F-35 doesn't suit the USN and USAF as the USN would prefer two engines and the USAF prefers a larger plane.

Already details for the 6th Gen plane were made years ago.  The USAF wants a tailless twin-engine supersonic stealth plane with faster speed and more internal fuel and payload than the F-35.  They want an air supremacy plane like the F-22, but with more advanced features.

The Navy wants a plane like the F-14 with long range and able to carry a larger AAM than the AIM-120.

So, yes, the USMC, USAF, and USN now all agree that the F-35 was a mistake and that they should have gone their own separate ways to develop their own plane designs, costing more yes, but they will each get what they wanted.  Instead, they compromised and out came the F-35 with a host of issues that is shoehorned into the same package.  One plane design doesn't suit all.

The Chinese stole the plans of the F-35 and improved on them...twin engines, larger fuselage, and more fuel...what the USN and USAF wanted...ironic.

Back to the drawing board for DoD.
Peter at 2/27/2017 12:36 PM

Re: Air Force Leader Wants More Aggressive Push for ‘Sixth-Gen’ Capabilities

If we would quit telling our own secrets with this so called transparency our technology wouldn't be stolen all the time. Lets fix the aircraft we have now before wasting more money on something ten years away
sailor12 at 2/28/2017 8:05 AM

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