USAF/US NAVY 6G Fighter Programs - F/A-XX, F-X, NGAD, PCA, ASFS news

Wouldn't it be ironic, if after having dropped out of the NGAD competition, Northrop was awarded a contract for the FB-21?

If things went that way, it would not be a separate product: it would be a B-21 with the same kit, just loaded with Long Shot type UAVs or very long range AAMs. It would be a training/software update, not a different platform. IF that is the way things go.
 
Last edited:
Amazing how quickly (well, ok, it took 167 electronic pages, so you got me there on the semantics/rhetorics) this discussion degenerated into a cartoon snippet. To be honest, if AI were actually to take over any intellectual discourse going forward, it might actually be an improvement...
 
Amazing how quickly (well, ok, it took 167 electronic pages, so you got me there on the semantics/rhetorics) this discussion degenerated into a cartoon snippet. To be honest, if AI were actually to take over any intellectual discourse going forward, it might actually be an improvement...

To be fair, I posted some rather long winded content on where I thought the NGAD program was going and only then posted a one liner for a bit of levity.

When an AI can do that, I’ll retire.
 
In regards to B-21 air to air concept. Let's assume USAF, by means of stealth and EW, maintains monopoly on first look first shot first kill for the next 40 years, air to air engagement is still not 1 on 1 battle. Every time you shoot you also make yourself vulnerable. The enemy gets x amount of data on you because 1) you open your weapon bays 2) your missile isn't stealthy in infared. At some point, maybe after your 5th kill, the enemy can zero in on you to force engagement. The need for beyond visual range to maneuver out of enemy's no escape zone is still important in order to disengage and re-engage on your own terms. That requires speed and agility.

I'm not buying this subsonic bomber carrying massive amount of air to air missiles concept.
 
Last edited:
In regards to B-21 air to air concept. Let's assume USAF, by means of stealth and EW, maintains monopoly on first look first shot first kill for the next 40 years, air to air engagement is still not 1 on 1 battle. Every time you shoot you also make yourself vulnerable. The enemy gets x amount of data on you because 1) you open your weapon bays 2) your missile isn't stealthy in infared. At some point, maybe after your 5th kill, the enemy can zero in on you to force engagement. The need for beyond visual range to maneuver out of enemy's no escape zone is still important in order to disengage and re-engage on your own terms. That requires speed and agility.

I'm not buying this subsonic bomber carrying massive air to air missile concept.
The advantage of the B-21 could be in the very high altitude capacity to shoot at the horizon very far than the AA fighter and defense, for the satellite capacity able to do that and that blabla , don' t forget of the ASAT weapon , if a ennemy disable the satellites you have zero capacity of action so a piloted plane stay the better option to fight. Imagine in a high end conflict explode a nuclear warhead in high altitude and with the electromagnetic wave all of your UAV fall on the ground...... Data, electronic , sensor etc are not the holy grail of war.
 
In regards to B-21 air to air concept. Let's assume USAF, by means of stealth and EW, maintains monopoly on first look first shot first kill for the next 40 years, air to air engagement is still not 1 on 1 battle. Every time you shoot you also make yourself vulnerable. The enemy gets x amount of data on you because 1) you open your weapon bays 2) your missile isn't stealthy in infared. At some point, maybe after your 5th kill, the enemy can zero in on you to force engagement. The need for beyond visual range to maneuver out of enemy's no escape zone is still important in order to disengage and re-engage on your own terms. That requires speed and agility.

I'm not buying this subsonic bomber carrying massive air to air missile concept.
Hmmm, yes also. As Josh said, IF.

So, if... The whole arsenal plane concept is vulnerable. I'd first think of possibly adding a laser for self-defense and definitely relying on Long Shot type UAVs packed into the rotary launcher and wingman drones so that it can mostly stay well out of range. Ideally, it would not be a converted B-21 but a downscaled aircraft without that big weapons bay and purely defensive kinetic or DEW armament, but plenty of electronic defence and offence capability (meaning recon, surveillance and intelligence capability too). Spotting and blowing stuff up directly is handled by various specialised drones, some of which are supersonic, such as Airbus' Wingman concept.

By analogy, a hunter and his hounds. Each hound in a hunting pack has it's own role depending on the stages of hunting and killing, and the game, be it pheasant or boar.

View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=antrlmCME74
 
Last edited:
As a concept, using a nuclear strike bomber for the main part of Air Dominance (Search, track and target) is deeply flawed.

Inevitably, an adversary would refine and better its countering systems at every occasions, negating the effect of deterrence, engagement after engagements.

There is a systemic reason why Strike fighters are small and cheap, You can discard them more easily and renew your fleet faster when the ever evolving battle´s tactics cycle has rendered them obsoletes.

With NGAD, the cost of the obsolescence trend is deported on paired UAS as much as possible. Still, the gap and delay of a complete swap will be tamed regarding the shock and awe resulting from having to replace your strategic bomber in the middle of a war.

remember WWII. How many iterations were available to battle commanders regarding strategic Bombers? Despite the evolving technology, and the shock of heavy losses, the USA soldered on essentially 1930´s designs in Europe and elsewhere, at the exception of the B-29.
 
Last edited:
The options (if, if, if...) in order might be:

1. 'Miserable choice' between FUBAR and SNAFU. Either Lockheed or Boeing are selected. F/A-XX almost certainly goes to Northrop because the Navy is happy to have a wider choice and wants to avoid the misery. The B-21 programme is after all on time and on budget.

If NGAD is cancelled, the Navy is no longer benefitting so much on shared technology and will need more appropriations for its now fully separate programme. The Air Force has two further options:

2. 'FB-21' + drones. Compromised by using a strategic bomber for a new role but somewhat compensated by the drones. It's a relatively cheap solution, so that's why it's second and not third.

3. 'John Peel,' which was in some of the earlier NGAD studies. May be subsonic or supersonic but not at the expense of stealth. Expensive because it's a clean sheet aircraft, albeit borrowing a lot from B-21. Some big, sophisticated, and fast drones have to be developed along with the more attributable and expendable types. May be ahead of its time (immature technology) and certainly very expensive. Probably delayed and production of F-15EX's and F-35s expanded in the meantime. In that case, range is a big issue. With the increasing vulnerability and costs of carriers, seabasing, deployment of F-35Bs to other platforms and F-22s to Australia and Japan is explored.

Thinking about the broader context, with European navies (apart from the UK) being unlikely to commit much to the Pacific, GCAF/Tempest becomes even more important for Japan and is supported by the US more (bypassing technology export bans that hobbled the F-22 and likely NGAD if it eventuates). AUKUS acquires more pillars, and letters: I, J, and K for example (the main challenge may be pronouncing it without summoning Cthulhu). An Indo-Pacific analogue of NATO - call it IPTO - might not be too far-fetched. If I was a wonk working in the US State Department, that's what I'd be advocating.

A second Trump presidency with its almost certain isolationist policy would throw this off of course.
 
Last edited:
Based on what is known about the NGAD and F/A-XX programmes what would be their respective TRLs?
 
OK, hear me out on this. Still verrrrry hypothetical. I'm talking about floaty things. TRLs are certainly even lower than they are for NGAD and F/A-XX, if we're not talking about specific items of hardware but capabilities and if China is the presumed adversary and the theatre is the Indo-Pacific, an area that is known to be very wet. Anyway terms like 'multi-domain' are being thrown around a lot. I'm looking at the role of air dominance first and hardware second.

Three programmes come to mind. First, the (delayed) DDG(X), second, the British Type 83 destroyer, and third, Japan's Missile Defense Ship. I predict that the next generation of destroyers will have a role expanding from air defence of a fleet/group to air control and dominance. This will include ballistic missile defence as Japan's ship was originally envisaged, but now also broader air control.


It may be that the USN DDG(X) will emerge from its delays oriented more towards a design that is focussed on aerospace awareness and effectiveness. What little we know about the UK's Type 83 is that it too, like the Type 45, will be focussed on air awareness and defence, with a further capability to deal with ballistic missiles. The design concept that has been so far with the multiple bays for commando boats may be outdated (see attached). Fewer boats, more SAMs and lasers.

With their emphasis on battlespace awareness and control, these ships and might succeed aircraft carriers as capital ships.
 

Attachments

  • TYPE83-UKDJ.jpg
    TYPE83-UKDJ.jpg
    159.9 KB · Views: 32
The advantage of the B-21 could be in the very high altitude capacity to shoot at the horizon very far than the AA fighter and defense, for the satellite capacity able to do that and that blabla , don' t forget of the ASAT weapon , if a ennemy disable the satellites you have zero capacity of action so a piloted plane stay the better option to fight. Imagine in a high end conflict explode a nuclear warhead in high altitude and with the electromagnetic wave all of your UAV fall on the ground...... Data, electronic , sensor etc are not the holy grail of war.
Shooting down satellite is a no go for fear of Kesseler Syndrome. Soft kill is probably the way to go when it comes to anti satellite techs but I think only a dedicated space or near space platform can do that.
 
Last edited:
The advantage of the B-21 could be in the very high altitude capacity to shoot at the horizon very far than the AA fighter and defense, for the satellite capacity able to do that and that blabla , don' t forget of the ASAT weapon , if a ennemy disable the satellites you have zero capacity of action so a piloted plane stay the better option to fight. Imagine in a high end conflict explode a nuclear warhead in high altitude and with the electromagnetic wave all of your UAV fall on the ground...... Data, electronic , sensor etc are not the holy grail of war.
The disadvantage is it can't react quickly and when (not if) it meets enemy air it will get shot down.
 
OK, hear me out on this. Still verrrrry hypothetical. I'm talking about floaty things. TRLs are certainly even lower than they are for NGAD and F/A-XX, if we're not talking about specific items of hardware but capabilities and if China is the presumed adversary and the theatre is the Indo-Pacific, an area that is known to be very wet. Anyway terms like 'multi-domain' are being thrown around a lot. I'm looking at the role of air dominance first and hardware second.

Three programmes come to mind. First, the (delayed) DDG(X), second, the British Type 83 destroyer, and third, Japan's Missile Defense Ship. I predict that the next generation of destroyers will have a role expanding from air defence of a fleet/group to air control and dominance. This will include ballistic missile defence as Japan's ship was originally envisaged, but now also broader air control.


It may be that the USN DDG(X) will emerge from its delays oriented more towards a design that is focussed on aerospace awareness and effectiveness. What little we know about the UK's Type 83 is that it too, like the Type 45, will be focussed on air awareness and defence, with a further capability to deal with ballistic missiles. The design concept that has been so far with the multiple bays for commando boats may be outdated (see attached). Fewer boats, more SAMs and lasers.

With their emphasis on battlespace awareness and control, these ships and might succeed aircraft carriers as capital ships.
Even if they came up with a rail/coil gun, that could sling rounds 1000nm cheaply, it still would be lacking the ability to see over the horizon (E-2Ds) and long distance ASW (currently lacking on CVBGs I'll conceded). Also, you can't go out and investigate a contact with a SAM like you can a fighter.
 
If NGAD is cancelled, the Navy is no longer benefitting so much on shared technology and will need more appropriations for its now fully separate programme.
Big Time!
Fiscal reality within the DoN means that F/A-XX initially will be wrapped around the F-35 Blk 4 avionics suite. Furthermore, the Navy paying for the entire AETP-derived engine development is a non-starter.
Seems the 'Ultra Hornet' alternative to a clean sheet F/A-XX is becoming more likely...
 
Last edited:
Big Time!
Reality within the DoN means that F/A-XX will be wrapped around the F-35 Blk 4 avionics suite. Furthermore, the Navy paying for the entire AETP-derived engine development is a non-starter.
Seems the 'Ultra Hornet' alternative to a clean sheet F/A-XX is becoming more likely...
What is Ultra Hornet ? Is there a platform in the black world who can have the role of NGAD, a stealthy command and control aircraft ?
 
What is Ultra Hornet ? Is there a platform in the black world who can have the role of NGAD, a stealthy command and control aircraft ?
The F-18 mafia community has shown to be quite clever in procuring major capability enhancements within a very constrained budget; to wit, the Super Hornet, its AESA radar, and the Growler. I believe Hornet 2000 has some R&D roots in the classified world, emerging just as A-12 was collapsing.
 
In regards to B-21 air to air concept. Let's assume USAF, by means of stealth and EW, maintains monopoly on first look first shot first kill for the next 40 years, air to air engagement is still not 1 on 1 battle. Every time you shoot you also make yourself vulnerable. The enemy gets x amount of data on you because 1) you open your weapon bays 2) your missile isn't stealthy in infared. At some point, maybe after your 5th kill, the enemy can zero in on you to force engagement. The need for beyond visual range to maneuver out of enemy's no escape zone is still important in order to disengage and re-engage on your own terms. That requires speed and agility.

I'm not buying this subsonic bomber carrying massive amount of air to air missiles concept.

I would argue that were one to use that concept, the B-21 would act as a sensor and control node with an option for very long ranged fire if the opportunity against very high value targets arises. Or at least that is how I would envision it. IMO the whole point of CCAs is to offload the firing event as much as possible, since it is the IR equivalent of setting off a road flare at night.
 
Shooting down satellite is a no go for fear of Kesseler Syndrome. Soft kill is probably the way to go when it comes to anti satellite techs but I think only a dedicated space or near space platform can do that.

Russia as a declining space power who is already under heavy sanctions might be fine with global space denial. Though that would certainly disrupt their relations with China.
 
Very hard to judge the merits of any NGAD-related concepts when we've seen nothing of the demonstrators that have supposedly been flown, or objective targets for the aircraft like range, weight, payload, speed, etc. Of course some days it still sounds as if they don't want to even commit to calling it an aircraft. As is all too often these days I'm left feeling like there is a lack of a clear vision in favor of ambiguity because of this notion that the latter will bring about more 'innovation'. It doesn't seem like that has proven to be the case in recent memory.
 
Even if they came up with a rail/coil gun, that could sling rounds 1000nm cheaply, it still would be lacking the ability to see over the horizon (E-2Ds) and long distance ASW (currently lacking on CVBGs I'll conceded). Also, you can't go out and investigate a contact with a SAM like you can a fighter.
I'm thinking of the ships operating as hubs, so other specialised bits of hardware and other services would be on call as part of the system.
 
If you rely on other flying hardwares then you gonna need a carrier to launch them. And if you gonna have carriers, then the flying hardwares will be big for the range necessary for the carrier/mothership to stay out of threat range, you're basically back to a big aircraft. Unless you're thinking foward deployed subs carrying SAM but now the problem is how you can transfer data in real time between your sensor hubs ship and the foward deployed missile magazines.

Any hardware that can't fly supersonic won't be able to reach threat in time (think aircraft launching long range antiship missiles) so you gonna need alot more of these platforms. Intercept the missile with a much more expensive missile is already a problem on top of the fact you need to punish the launching platform as well so it might be more expensive in the end having x amount more of platforms to have the same coverage as air superiority aircraft.
 
Last edited:
Seems like maybe the AETP decision should be re-evaluated if we're stuck with the F-35 for the foreseeable future.
 
Is it clear to anyone whether or not "NGAD" is the portfolio program with "Penetrating Counter Air" as the manned fight and CCA as the unmanned component?
I think that's how it's shaking out to work, even if that wasn't how it was originally envisioned.


CCA seems like its in bad shape. The other competitor is general atomics. But it is my understanding that the two designs are quite different, indicating that air force doesn't even know what they want. And if they don't know what they want, then thats a program ready to be cut.
I'm fully expecting a whole "century series" worth of CCAs, as different chunks of technology mature and allow for inexpensive airframes with various capabilities.

Look at all the Century Series
F-100: first supersonic fighter, secondary ground attack capabilities (mostly nuclear)​
F-101: long range bomber escort, tactical nuclear bomber, and interceptor, M1.7 top speed with automatic ground controlled intercept systems (SAGE)​
F-102: Mach 1.25 interceptor also tied into SAGE systems. (quickly replaced by F-106)​
XF-103: early high speed long range interceptor project, dropped when technology overtook specs​
F-104: Mach 2 point defense interceptor, short ranged. Later a short range tac nuke delivery system.​
F-105: Supersonic "fighter"-bomber. Emphasis on the bomber, but the type did get a few air-to-air kills in Vietnam courtesy of a Vulcan gun and 1000rds of ammunition.​
F-106: Mach 2.3 medium-range interceptor (F-101 had more range but less speed)​
XF-107: Mach 2+ development of F-100, competitor to the F-105.​
XF-108: very long ranged Mach 3 interceptor/bomber escort (basically the PCA mission), cancelled with XB-70.​
XF-109: unassigned officially.​
F-110: original numbering of the F-4 Phantom pre-1963, Mach 2+ heavy fighter-bomber.​
F-111: long range, all weather low altitude penetration bomber/interdictor.​

Considering that we're not even at "F-100 equivalent", the first supersonic CCA, yet... Our current CCAs are equivalent to F-80s and F-84s, subsonic and marginally effective as air-to-air fighters! They're much more capable as ground attackers than as air-to-air. I'm not sure that an XQ-58 has the internal volume to hold even a pair of AIM9s, I think it can just hold a pair of SDBs that are ~6ft long. So I guess the Valkyrie could carry AAMs if someone made HalfRAAMs like CUDA.

The USAF has demonstrated dogfight-capable autonomous aircraft using QF-16s, so that part of the technology is ready. Just need a supersonic airframe to put that control program in, something comparable to an F-100 or F-101. Something supersonic and reasonably maneuverable. The F-101 is optimized for long range.

Depending on how the NGAD is spec'd, the CCAs may also require supercruise. I mean, a plane can be built to cruise at significant speed like the Blackbirds were, or it could be built to be able to supercruise but at a reduction in range. The F-22 loses range if it supercruises, for example. If NGAD is expected to supercruise for any chunk of the mission, the CCAs need to be able to keep up.

The types of CCAs that the USAF has talked about have been:
carrying additional AAMs but not dogfight-capable,​
EW,​
ISR/recon, and​
a comms relay like BACN
USAF has pretty notably NOT mentioned any bomb-dropping CCAs.​

DARPA LongShots are probably the smallest "spear carriers", basically a JASSM airframe with space for 2-4 AMRAAMs instead of a warhead. Part of the LongShot goal is to be able to recover the LongShot, so the airframe can't just jettison the stealthy outer shell to launch the missiles. There need to be bays and doors for the missiles to launch through. Since LongShots are air-launched they don't need as much range as the NGAD does. Kick a pile of Longshots out the back of a C-17, Rapid Dragon style.

With stealthy airframes, an EW CCA does not have to be large to be effective. You can make it a stand-in jammer like a bigger towed decoy rather than an EA-18G-sized standoff jammer. That said, the Growler tends to carry a couple of AARGMs and/or a couple of JSOWs for surprise targets, and I'd want any second-generation EW CCAs to be able to do that as well. Growlers also carry a pair of AMRAAMs for self protection, but I'm not going to require that on a CCA. Just making it a bonus point if there's space for some AAMs.

ISR/recon means a VLO airframe these days, since even the Houthis are able to shoot down Reapers without issue. Also probably means that the CCA will need at least a missile approach and warning system, if not full defensive measures.

The comms relay could fit into the same airframe as the ISR payload, but doesn't have to. IIRC, this one was pretty specifically wanted as a runway independent type like the Valkyrie. Also needs to be VLO like the ISR/recon, and fitted with the same MAWS and other defensive measures since the mission of a comms relay means flying in circles daring people to shoot at you.

My mental model has been using the EW CCA as the base for a bomb-capable CCA, since the Growler carries a good 7000lbs of jammers and 3000-5000lbs of weapons. But the USAF has been notably silent on ground attack as a mission for the CCAs.


Surely the best idea for the USAF is to do a joint program with the US Navy and use the F/A-XX as a starting point. Obviously the NGAD was starting to get financial problems and that is why the USAF are starting to have issues with the whole program.
No, the USAF needs far, far more range out of their NGADs than the USN needs from the FAXX. At least 50% more range than the USN version. Also, the USN has some limits on the weight of aircraft that they can launch and recover from a carrier, IIRC ~85-90klbs launch limit and ~55klbs recovery limit. EMALS and the AAG might not have those limits, but 10 of 11 US carriers are Nimitz class that do have those limits.

Between those two items, you end up with a likely USAF NGAD being some 105-125klbs MTOW and the USN FAXX is 85klbs MTOW. FAXX empty weight of about 45klbs, NGAD ~50klbs (the bigger fuel tanks need more structure).

Also, if the USAF is smart, they'll insist that the NGAD weapons bays be deep enough to hold 2000lb bombs internally, so that they can do a Strike Eagle replacement out of the NGAD, with a raised MTOW. 10x AMRAAMs and 2x AIM9s is pretty light, only ~3750lbs. But 10x 2000lb bombs is obviously 20klbs.
 

Now, the service may be considering a larger NGAD airframe, Gertler said, noting that a platform the size of a bomber may not be effective in a traditional dogfight, but would still dominate enemy air spaces.
 
If you gonna go back to the drawing board at least let us see the things you're discarding please please please!
 
Quite right donnage99, I would like to have a good look at them to see why they were abandoned.
 

Similar threads

Please donate to support the forum.

Back
Top Bottom