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

Holy click bait Batman!

"Frank Kendall reassured in an interview with Defense News that the service was working on creating an advanced next-generation fighter, but a redesign was necessary to control expenses and improve the integration of loyal wingman drones"

How is it "dead" then?
 
Remember UAVs data hacked in Iraq, around 2009.
And the RQ-170 reportedly hacked and detained by Iran in 2011.
There is always a weakness, somewhere.

"The practice was uncovered in July 2009, when the US military found files of intercepted drone video feeds on the laptop of a captured militant"

US fixed drones hacked by Iraqi insurgents: Pentagon https://phys.org/news/2009-12-drones-hacked-iraqi-insurgents-pentagon.html


To be fair, those drone feeds were rushed to service unencrypted IIRC. It was a known liability of getting the ISR desired sooner I believe.
 
I would throw another theory in the mix - maybe it's not that they have newfound confidence in CCA but that they realize CCA might not live to the hype which means number of NGAD need to increase, and with current cost projection, it's just not sustainable.

From the wording, it doesn't seem that unit price has gone above the 300 mil they had always quoted. But suddenly now they're saying that unit price isn't sustainable. I think they trying to hollow out couple of capabilities to see if they can bring cost down and buy more airplanes than previously planned.
 
My unfounded speculation is that they've run into a similar situation the B1-A has with stealth planes - NGAD is based on an incremental improvement of existing approach at high cost. Meanwhile a breakthrough capability has emerged that, while unproven, promises to be way more effective for way less money. This has prompted a scale-back of cost and capability of the original platform, like how the B1-A was turned into the B1-B.
Now we can speculate on what this capability entails - the pedestrian answer being drones, to the entirely out-there idea of Area-51 UFO antigravity tech - that they are withholding purposefully until a watershed moment, like they did with the F-117 until the Gulf War.
 
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So is F/A-XX still going ahead?
So this is a tough spot for me. Because what I recall from my other carrier friends looking big picture is that support equipment commonality is a big issue. With a large majority of the ship's needing full F-35 retrofits from LHDs and CVNs, I would be quick to guess with high accuracy that if F/A-XX is still moving ahead, I have an odd feeling that LM may be preferred or will have to share their systems commonality ship side to support the F/A-XX program. Call me wrong if anyone wants. I just know from experience, aircraft maintenance out to sea is much more tedious than shore side.
 
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I would throw another theory in the mix - maybe it's not that they have newfound confidence in CCA but that they realize CCA might not live to the hype which means number of NGAD need to increase, and with current cost projection, it's just not sustainable.

From the wording, it doesn't seem that unit price has gone above the 300 mil they had always quoted. But suddenly now they're saying that unit price isn't sustainable. I think they trying to hollow out couple of capabilities to see if they can bring cost down and buy more airplanes than previously planned.
I agree with this possibility
 
If you're trying to respond to a developing attack 500 miles away you're going to need a teleporter to get the CCA's there at the same time as NGAD. Defense doesn't always give one the luxury of planning every detail that offense does.
It's hard to imagine an AF so unsure about NGAD, after years of funding, research, and studies would have coherent concept of operations for CCAs.

From what Frank Kendall said, each manned fighter may have up to 5 CCA wingmen. NGAD would have a greater reach and the ability process information with its sensors and could feed CCAs with a fused picture of the battlespace. But what what other roles does it play? There has to be some type of control, and ability to reposition, prioritize, and engage or not engage targets. Do drone wingmen perform a similar role to manned wingmen?
 
I would throw another theory in the mix - maybe it's not that they have newfound confidence in CCA but that they realize CCA might not live to the hype which means number of NGAD need to increase, and with current cost projection, it's just not sustainable.

From the wording, it doesn't seem that unit price has gone above the 300 mil they had always quoted. But suddenly now they're saying that unit price isn't sustainable. I think they trying to hollow out couple of capabilities to see if they can bring cost down and buy more airplanes than previously planned.

In addition to this very plausible theory, I would like to add another:

Maybe the USAF also completely misjudged the scope of the Chinese threat and thought decisive technological overmatch was a possibility. If technological overmatch is impossible, then the USAF has to pursue something closer to the Cold War approach: a large air force with warplanes somewhat better than the adversary and consistently pursuing new series of fighters.

That approach would not work with the super-plan that the NGAD seemed to be shaping up to be.
 
So this is a tough spot for me. Because what I recall from my other carrier friends looking big picture is that support equipment commonality is a big issue. With a large majority of the ship's needing full F-35 retrofits from LHDs and CVNs, I would be quick to guess with high accuracy that if F/A-XX is still moving ahead, I have an odd feeling that LM may be preferred or will have to share their systems commonality ship side to support the F/A-XX program. Call me wrong if anyone wants. I just know from experience, aircraft maintenance out to sea is much more tedious than shore side.
Don't get me wrong, I'm still on the "if its boeing i aint goeing" bandwagon, but if what you're saying ends up being the case; then they gotta throw the murderous Boeing executives a bone and give the NGAD contract to them.

This Lockmart monopoly simply can't go on for much longer.
 
Don't get me wrong, I'm still on the "if its boeing i aint goeing" bandwagon, but if what you're saying ends up being the case; then they gotta throw the murderous Boeing executives a bone and give the NGAD contract to them.

This Lockmart monopoly simply can't go on for much longer.
My personal hopes around the whole situation regarding F/A-XX is (Northrop) Grumman has my highest hopes as the successor. They have a strong strong lineage of historic Naval aircraft. I mean, looks like they enjoy Easter egging what they have in the background of their commercials. Seems promising.
 
I would throw another theory in the mix - maybe it's not that they have newfound confidence in CCA but that they realize CCA might not live to the hype which means number of NGAD need to increase, and with current cost projection, it's just not sustainable.

From the wording, it doesn't seem that unit price has gone above the 300 mil they had always quoted. But suddenly now they're saying that unit price isn't sustainable. I think they trying to hollow out couple of capabilities to see if they can bring cost down and buy more airplanes than previously planned.
Possible, but Kendall seems really infatuated with CCAs. He recently flew in the AI enabled F-16 and came away impressed.

Everything is odd about this. Kendall knew about the cost of NGAD. He used it to justify CCAs. Similarly, all his comments regarding NGAD previous showed a high level of confidence. He indicated it was at a high level of maturation by saying it was in EMD, then subsequently having to walk back those comments. He also talked in glowing teams how prime contractor engineers were working with AF engineers/acquisition officials in the same room.

I've alway thought Kendall had diarrhea of the mouth. Part salesman, part evangelist. Unlike the other services his words and actions gives the impression of a vision. But at the same time it's not surprising that his story is changing.

What I find really odd is Kendall's sticker shock. It is in line what you would have expected historically out of a high end fighter in the a fleet employing a high-low mix - the F-14, F-15, F-22. The F-35 is similar to what the F-16 would have cost in the 1980s.

Watering down NGAD, after years of research, analysis, and funding, puts the high end at risk. You can't gold plate NGAD, but at the same time you spent time and money on developing requirement, trading capability and cost.

At the same time, you need more than 200 high end fighters. Didn't they learn that lesson with the F-22? Which puts into question the idea of adopting a model based on the Century Fighters. Small batches of fighters are difficult to support and sustain over time. This they knew. Hopefully, they alway have run the numbers to determine if they can throw away a $300 million fighter or even a $20 million CCA after ten years.
 
I think the main driver of the Air Force's re-evaluation of the NGAD is the recent, adverse developments in the service's budget outlook.

In the time since the RFP for the NGAD was released last summer, the service has been hit with the one-two punch of budget cuts vs its expected topline (due to continuing resolutions and the Budget Control Act) and the discovery of explosive cost growth on the Sentinel's silo refurbishment and cabling program. The latter, as just an overrun, is maybe 35 billion and counting -- much, much more than the Air Force was planning to spend on NGAD for the rest of the decade, based on its planned 13.3 NGAD spend between FY 23 and FY 28.

In the aftermath of these problems, and without being able to assume that future defense budgets will be favorable, the Air Force has to decide to what to cut. Conditions like that almost automatically mean that absolutely any large new start program will come in for review, and face at least some degree of threat of substantial delay, descoping, or cancellation. You don't need to assume anything about the status of NGAD, or other USAF technologies on the horizon, or about China in order to know that. It's just a general truth about new programs trying to launch in unexpectedly bad budgetary times.
 
Nice update on CCA increment one schedule, disclosure of radars as sensors (but no specifics), AMRAAMs as missiles, as well as indications the two options may be complementary:

 
Nice update on CCA increment one schedule, disclosure of radars as sensors (but no specifics), AMRAAMs as missiles, as well as indications the two options may be complementary:


This is interesting too.

" It may be that CCA is moving so rapidly that an autonomous version of NGAD—which would likely be far less costly than a piloted version—could be possible on the timelines required by the Air Force. "
 
Not sure that's wise. Sounds like when they removed the gun form Phantoms too soon. How will AI deal with complex stand-off situations and difficult RoEs decisions?

My guess is that if something like that happens, it would be because the "quarterback" crewed supervision function gets moved to a different, non-fighter platform, or at the very, very least a ground station via ABMS/JADC2. In that case, the decision wouldn't involve removing humans from the kill chain, or even necessarily from the playcalling process at all, just removing them from the immediately on-site aircraft.

But I'd suspect that if human crews and the quarterback function were to be removed from the next gen of fighters, much of that supervising function would then migrate to a crewed tanking/communications/battle management node that would still be approximately in the high altitude line-of-site of the fighter platforms a few hundred NM away, or in times of greater danger, further but still close enough for RQ-180, E-7, B-21, or BACN signal relay, so that space ops don't have to be assumed to work.

I'm saying all this, by the way, while still very much hoping for a 100-120,000 pound crewed sixth gen fighter. I'm just saying that IF they ditch that, THEN...
 
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This is interesting too.

" It may be that CCA is moving so rapidly that an autonomous version of NGAD—which would likely be far less costly than a piloted version—could be possible on the timelines required by the Air Force. "

I hope not, but IMO the Air Force might end up delaying the NGAD/PCA, without cancelling it outright...and then spend the next four years (25-28) developing the CCAs, F-35 block 4 and ECU, and the upgraded Raptors, but without much in the way of further investment in a crewed sixth gen fighter beyond NGAP, which might still be allowed to run to completion.

Then, with some of those costs in the rearview mirror, more info about both the domestic funding environment and Chinese plans, and finalized CCAs and NGAPs, the administration after next, starting in 2029 and definitely making its mark with the budget prepared in spring 2030, could make the final decusion.

Again, I hope not. But I feel like this idea fits the current trendlines uncomfortably closely...
 
My guess is that if something like that happens, it would be because the "quarterback" crewed supervision function gets moved to a different, non-fighter platform, or at the very, very least a ground station via ABMS/JADC2. In that case, the decision wouldn't involve removing humans from the kill chain, or even necessarily from the playcalling process at all, just removing them from the immediately on-site aircraft.

But I'd suspect that if human crews and the quarterback function were to be removed from the next gen of fighters, much of that supervising function would then migrate to a crewed tanking/communications/battle management node that would still be approximately in the high altitude line-of-site of the fighter platforms a few hundred NM away, or in times of greater danger, further but still close enough for RQ-180, E-7, B-21, or BACN signal relay, so that space ops don't have to be assumed to work.

I'm saying all this, by the way, while still very much hoping for a 100-120,000 pound crewed sixth gen fighter. I'm just saying that IF they ditch that, THEN...
You still have a need for the air dominance mission, CCA can't do that , high speed interception of ennemy high speed fighter , visual identification of threat , air policy for that you need supersonic speed ; high altitude patrol etc..... an autonomous NGAD could do that, and the B-21 could be the mothership of the NGAD UCAV , flying very high and behind and why not with the long range new SM-6 missile the B-21 could be like a stealth AWACS with weapon , and the sword could be the NGAD.
 
You still have a need for the air dominance mission, CCA can't do that , high speed interception of ennemy high speed fighter , visual identification of threat , air policy for that you need supersonic speed ; high altitude patrol etc..... an autonomous NGAD could do that, and the B-21 could be the mothership of the NGAD UCAV , flying very high and behind and why not with the long range new SM-6 missile the B-21 could be like a stealth AWACS with weapon , and the sword could be the NGAD.

I'm inclined to agree that the General Atomics version of the CCA increment one might not be supersonic. The Anduril one looks fast to me though, and I noted that the Blue Force concept for it involved serving as a fighter adversary in training exercises against F-22s and F-35s, which implies strong transonic ability at a minimum, and IMO very possibly a decent supersonic dash that could enable some extra missile range.

Even in the event that neither of the CCA increment *one* platforms meets the performance thresholds for a fighter, I don't see why CCA increment *two* might not, or more generally, why the USAF would pick an uncrewed NGAD over a larger quantity of CCA-ish aircraft. IMO, NGAD as a design concept only makes sense if crewed.

In terms of target recognition and ROE, my first guess would be that visual identification has mostly been replaced by NCTR techniques like shape detection and engine signature detection, in the case of more conventional targets, or VLO radar and IR signatures in the case of advanced OPFOR aircraft. There seems to be little chance of a friendly airliner flying into a combat situation over the Taiwan straights, for instance, while somehow also being a VLO airliner. Not to mention, that in the majority of cases the CCA could simply transmit its ID-ing info to a crewed station for confirmation prior to shooting, if ROE did demand that.
 
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There is a need for a powerful aircraft able to fight in face of J-20 and SU-57 and the futur of Russian and Chinese futur fighter , this is a work for NGAD , GA CCA is not a dog fighter or able to make pursuit of mach 2 supersoni fighter of Russia and China, Anduril max speed is in the 1000 KMH and GA one 800 kmh .
 
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Nice update on CCA increment one schedule, disclosure of radars as sensors (but no specifics), AMRAAMs as missiles, as well as indications the two options may be complementary:


This part

" CCAs fanned out on a wide front, as many as six each controlled by a single crewed fifth-generation F-22 or F-35. The dispersed formation will create a large synthetic aperture radar net which can more precisely spot and target an adversary’s fifth-generation aircraft, allowing friendly forces to more quickly engage them and buy back some of the “first-look, first-shot” capability lost in recent years. "

sounds like bistatic operation.

bistatic.png
 
Nice update on CCA increment one schedule, disclosure of radars as sensors (but no specifics), AMRAAMs as missiles, as well as indications the two options may be complementary:


" An industry source said AFRL also planned an Off Board Weapon Station (OBWS) program that would partner with the OBSS as a hunter-killer two-aircraft system—but that has been subsumed into the CCA effort. "

In this 'hunter-killer two-aircraft system', jam-resistant communication is a must. Imagine these two guys below can't talk each other.

OBSS-OBWS.jpg
 
" An industry source said AFRL also planned an Off Board Weapon Station (OBWS) program that would partner with the OBSS as a hunter-killer two-aircraft system—but that has been subsumed into the CCA effort. "

In this 'hunter-killer two-aircraft system', jam-resistant communication is a must. Imagine these two guys below can't talk each other.

View attachment 734066
Kinetics performance is a need too,
 
" An industry source said AFRL also planned an Off Board Weapon Station (OBWS) program that would partner with the OBSS as a hunter-killer two-aircraft system—but that has been subsumed into the CCA effort. "

In this 'hunter-killer two-aircraft system', jam-resistant communication is a must. Imagine these two guys below can't talk each other.

View attachment 734066

Arguably any modern air operations depend on communications being uninterrupted. A lone fighter with no radio hypothetically can fight on its own but practically is dead meat. A MADL style directional datalink is a must have for CCA, both to communicate with control platforms (whatever they are) and with each other. Intercepting, let alone jamming, a directional datalink is going to be extremely difficult.

It seems possible CCA might operate as a passive receiver for other platforms (potentially both manned or unmanned). This offloads a lot of cost, power, and cooling requirements. I always assumed CCAs would be passive receivers sensor wise, but I had assumed they would use IRST and ESM. The above article does imply they will operate as bistatic receivers as well.
 
This is interesting too.

" It may be that CCA is moving so rapidly that an autonomous version of NGAD—which would likely be far less costly than a piloted version—could be possible on the timelines required by the Air Force. "
An autonomous NGAD will not cost less than a manned NGAD. I haven't any doubt that the NGAD will probably have an optionally manned option like the B-21 eventually will, though. Although, I do enjoy laughing at all of the bed wetters here pissing themselves over NGAD being resized. They're the same people who were crying that the new bomber wasn't going to be a hypersonic super cruising multi-MOAB carrying death machine, because it had to be more affordable. Oh, how they had the vapors over that. As a result, we've all seen what a big failure the B-21 is. (<= Sarcasm for the sarcastically challenged.)
 
To entirely commit yourself to CCA without having any combat experience with them would be wildly reckless.

There's no reason to expect CCA development to go any better than autonomous cars. We were, what, a few years away from autonomous cars a decade ago?
 
To entirely commit yourself to CCA without having any combat experience with them would be wildly reckless.

There's no reason to expect CCA development to go any better than autonomous cars. We were, what, a few years away from autonomous cars a decade ago?

I suspect a UCAV operating in enemy airspace is far less challenging than a car. You do not have to worry about running into things and you can shoot at anything not explicitly friendly. Defensive operations with manned fighters, especially across services and countries, would probably be a lot more challenging. But most war gaming seems to envision CCAs operating in offensive, high casualty operations, in pulses that allow friendly bombers and cruise missiles gain access to enemy airspace. That is perhaps less challenging as most everything can be assumed hostile be default, outside of friendly aircraft with a direct datalink. Visual/IR ID of aircraft should not be especially difficult for an AI either, even assuming IFF signaling was somehow blocked.
 
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My guess is that if something like that happens, it would be because the "quarterback" crewed supervision function gets moved to a different, non-fighter platform, or at the very, very least a ground station via ABMS/JADC2. In that case, the decision wouldn't involve removing humans from the kill chain, or even necessarily from the playcalling process at all, just removing them from the immediately on-site aircraft.

But I'd suspect that if human crews and the quarterback function were to be removed from the next gen of fighters, much of that supervising function would then migrate to a crewed tanking/communications/battle management node that would still be approximately in the high altitude line-of-site of the fighter platforms a few hundred NM away, or in times of greater danger, further but still close enough for RQ-180, E-7, B-21, or BACN signal relay, so that space ops don't have to be assumed to work.

Agreed.
 
This part

" CCAs fanned out on a wide front, as many as six each controlled by a single crewed fifth-generation F-22 or F-35. The dispersed formation will create a large synthetic aperture radar net which can more precisely spot and target an adversary’s fifth-generation aircraft, allowing friendly forces to more quickly engage them and buy back some of the “first-look, first-shot” capability lost in recent years. "

sounds like bistatic operation.

View attachment 734064
I don't think it's bistatic radar, sounds more like multiple radars looking at the same point in space, and correlating what they see. For example an enemy aircraft could hide in the noise floor by lonesome, but CCA1 sees it from 3 o'clock, CCA2 head on, CCA3 from 10 o'clock etc. Based on an onboard database of aircraft polar RCS plot, they calculate what the return from a given angle at a particular point in space would look like, and correlate the result from each CCA. If the results are consistent with each other, then that means it's very likely it's an enemy aircraft. Also considering the noise of radars is random and uncorrellated, illuminating the enemy with multiple radars improves the SNR by the square root of the number of radars, which is something.

It's probably the same thing I've read the Chinese are doing:
 
An autonomous NGAD will not cost less than a manned NGAD.
The elimination of the cockpit, ECS, ergonomics factors, OBOGS, HMI, aircrew courseware/training, salary, simulators etc. is bound to save some. The question is whether it's a good idea in general. It's turning into the 'Top Gun Maverick' storyline policy debate - drones vs pilots.
 
Developing systems that enable autonomous operations - cost? Hardware involved - additional sensors? Compare with F-35's troubles going from TR-3 to TR-4 - developing/fielding automated systems takes time and money.
 
I'd like to highlight the diplomatic breakthrough between the Philippines and Japan over the last 24 hr.

It's only the latest in a number of recent developments that have been tying the Philippenes closer to the Quad, AUKUS, and the US, but it's a nice reminder of the recent changes in the area, as well as a good idea for both countries IMO. It's about 630 NM between Manila and Taipei according to a quick google. That could be a real help for unloading the limited and vulnerable air bases of Guam & Japan, & a reason for increasing confidence in shorter range aircraft w/ austere ops capabilities.
 
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