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

bring_it_on

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The digital century series approach as explained by the USAF at the time (my understanding) wasn't just about rapidly fielding a program (what the RCO may do on certain programs) but also about having multiple designs in development and ready to enter production so that design teams get multiple shots instead of designing for the mission once competing and then not going back to that mission for another few decades.

The lack of competition is getting out of hand on several fronts and the focus on COIN only made it worst. Raytheon has a virtual monopoly on anything that goes inside a Navy VL cell. Lockheed is the only 5th gen game in town. It wasn't until 2015 that we competed an air to air missile (since the 1980s) and we still haven't competed a WVR weapon for nearly half a century. The DCS was also about making design associated IR&D viable.. If you know you have a shot at production every 5-8 years you may have large and well funded design teams. At least that's what I thought they were trying to solve via that approach.

But the tagline of new fighter every 5 years and a wings worth of production each is probably what made it a lot less cost effective than what it could have been. To get to that five year/new design entering production phase probably requires billions to spool up industrial design capacity. And it also doesn't solve the problem of sustaining disparate small fleets (partly why the AF wants to retire the F-22 as soon as NGAD is ready to take over). Organizational culture also likely plays into this. The USAF is taking longer than five years to operationalize the F-15 EX (FY-20 decision, and FY24-25 IOC) which isn't even a completely new design. So even if you can design and produce something new in five years, the AF may not be able to absorb it effectively into its operational fleet without some serious cultural shift.

This type of approach may work better on unmanned and on weapons.
 
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Josh_TN

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I don't see the digital century series as being something that will really work for manned aircraft, but on the other hand I could easily see that working for UAVs. Think how many different drones of different sizes could be off the shelf plug ins for the NGAD program, so long as you worked with a common control software (something the USAF is doing under skybord)?
 

bring_it_on

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Yes exactly, and the added benefit of that is that you don't need to be a huge prime to be competitive. You can either be a relatively small design shop and partner for production, or be a small-medium sized company. Kratos, Blue Force et al can play in that space and still be competitive with the LM's, Boeing's and NG's of the world.
 

sferrin

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To be frank, I’m not quite convinced that the “Digital Century Series” is the right approach, especially the Century Series part. From the perspective of logistics and support, it may be very difficult or expensive to operate so many disparate aircraft types, especially when USAF’s goal is to reduce the number of aircraft types in order to rein in costs. I can understand trying to emulate the rapid development of aircraft types that’s associated with the Century Series, but a digital engineering repeat of that? Eh, have my doubts.

What approach would you suggest for an adversary that will be much more well funded and educated than the Soviet Union was? At some point China's investments in STEM will result in an explosion in modernization/R&D, we're behind on that front (STEM investment), so being able to rapidly develop aircraft to maintain an asymmetric advantage is paramount.

Edit: The cost effective talking point I don't think is feasible for what they are proposing, given the extreme unpredictability of the future in regards to US & China.
Imagine China takes Taiwan and then says to the West, "no more chips for you".
 

TomcatViP

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Sadly, the race in airframe capabilities is there to stay. The advantages that was fielded with the introduction of the F-4E in the ME, the F-15 & F-14 or the F-16 and F-22 were real and way beyond the small number of aircraft initially put into service. See what the small fleet of F-22 can achieve today. See what Eagles and Falcons did over the Beqaa valley.

With a focus on great power competition, loss rate will become paramount since length of conflict will be cut short (fire power and industry capability to restore lost capacity). Hence, IMOHO, a small fleet of advanced airframe able to dominate the fight will impart an effect well beyond their small number, inducing losses an order of magnitude over their loss and opening determining gaps in a competitor defense (think at the increased lethality of systems today).

The drawback is that we live an age where the cycle of innovation has drastically shortened and, especially, if we speak about China at war (there is no reason today to not expect a similar improvement in effectiveness as what was witnessed with the USA during WWII). If then we admit that everyone should target that capability to produce advanced fighters and aircraft that could have a transformational effect on the battlefield, the shortened cycles lead to reduced numbers at each iteration.

The Century vision famously shared by W. Roper is not an artifice or a philosophy. It's an effect.
 

Josh_TN

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Imagine China takes Taiwan and then says to the West, "no more chips for you".
The US has the tech to set up manufacturing here, although it would take a lot of time and money spent. But more to the point, I honestly don't think the US would allow that to happen - at a minimum, I think they'd blast the infrastructure of Taiwan's chip industry if they couldn't defend it.
 

LMFS

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What approach would you suggest for an adversary that will be much more well funded and educated than the Soviet Union was? At some point China's investments in STEM will result in an explosion in modernization/R&D, we're behind on that front (STEM investment), so being able to rapidly develop aircraft to maintain an asymmetric advantage is paramount.
That is a logical contradiction, because more STEM graduates and effort in China will result in faster, more disruptive digital engineering being implemented over there, it is not as if only US can use that, while the rest are locked in the classical approach. For instance, Sukhoi states that they have just designed the LTS in roughly one year, so by now the cat is out of the bag and everyone is going to use those new methods as intensively as they can.
 
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In_A_Dream

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That is a logical contradiction, because more STEM graduates and effort in China will result in faster, more disruptive digital engineering being implemented over there, it is not as if only US can use that, while the rest are locked in the classical approach. For instance, Sukhoi states that they have just designed the LTS in roughly one year, so by now the cat is out of the bag and everyone is going to use those new methods as intensively as they can.

I don't know about logical contradiction, I think it's going to be a very competitive environment on both sides of the ocean. And chances are, what we see publicly will already be yesterday's news as both work to maintain an advantage over one another. The only ones who will be left at the mercy of the classical approach will be smaller players like the EU or Russia.
 

Hood

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Sukhoi states that they have just designed the LTS in roughly one year, so by now the cat is out of the bag and everyone is going to use those new methods as intensively as they can.
Sure they may have designed it one year but I bet they haven't written line of software code in one year or shrunk the certification process and paperwork to have it flown and in the hands of service pilots within another year.

The Digital Century series allegedly has a prototype that was built/produced in record time but we haven't seen it and we don't know if it exists as hardware or on someone's cloud storage. The quotes by US officials have been vague with references like "We still have to make it real, and there’s a lot to do in the program."

There is no doubt design and certification is speeding up, but there is going to be some kind of minimum possible time limit. Even 5 years can be a big gulf in technology by the time it leaves the CAD system and enters front line service. If you just miss incorporating 'Breakthrough Tech X' you still have another 5 year wait until NGAD Mk.2 arrives on the flightline. As others have said, it may work much better for unmanned aircraft.
 

LMFS

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The only ones who will be left at the mercy of the classical approach will be smaller players like the EU or Russia.
Russia has been the first to officially present an aircraft designed using digital engineering, just saying...

At the end of the day these technologies allow to save time and money in the development of platforms, so the result may be that more players may be enabled in a business which is rather restrictive today.

Sure they may have designed it one year but I bet they haven't written line of software code in one year or shrunk the certification process and paperwork to have it flown and in the hands of service pilots within another year.
Sure, there are aspects that can be optimized and others not so much. A low risk approach is to develop based on components and systems that have already been validated by the classical method like in LTS/Su-57, so virtual methods find a very strong backing of real world data for validation. But I think many other steps of the development process will still need to be done and cannot really see how low rate production of different models of different suppliers is going to be cheaper, if all you could argue an evolutionary approach could benefit greatly of these technologies, but not when systems and airframes with different origins are used. And of course, the logistics / training / sustainment of such a fleet does not promise anything good.
 

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There's no need to swing virtual designed aircraft dicks around. The real question will be who can produce what. We will figure that out in a few years.
 

bobbymike

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red admiral

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The Skunk Works head separately said digital engineering has reduced aircraft build times by two-thirds as business has exploded in recent years.
From the interview its clear that they're referring to Concept-Design-Build-Test rather than just "build". Which is dependent on having good models linked together in a common framework - which is robust enough to serve a variety of concepts and configurations.

"So why do we care about that?" Babione asked rhetorically. "Well, it dramatically compresses the time between concept and capability."
 

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So nobody knows what it is then :) Cheers.
It’s more likely that nobody really cares about unmanned aircraft in the same way that enthusiasts did about the manned F-117 and B-2 way back 30 to 35 years ago. Military aerospace does not enjoy the broad public interest that it did a generation ago. Back in the Reagan era, it wasn’t uncommon for a well informed layman to have an opinion on the B-1B program. Try finding one American out of 10,000 who is aware of the B-21 Raider, let alone has an opinion on it. Today, the general public is indifferent. That is both a positive and a negative for military aviation programs. Gone is the insane journalistic criticism of programs that were ultimately successful. On the other hand, without emotional investment from the voting public, there’s no demonstrable grass level support either, except for people and communities effected by defense sector employment.
 

dark sidius

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So nobody knows what it is then :) Cheers.
It’s more likely that nobody really cares about unmanned aircraft in the same way that enthusiasts did about the manned F-117 and B-2 way back 30 to 35 years ago. Military aerospace does not enjoy the broad public interest that it did a generation ago. Back in the Reagan era, it wasn’t uncommon for a well informed layman to have an opinion on the B-1B program. Try finding one American out of 10,000 who is aware of the B-21 Raider, let alone has an opinion on it. Today, the general public is indifferent. That is both a positive and a negative for military aviation programs. Gone is the insane journalistic criticism of programs that were ultimately successful. On the other hand, without emotional investment from the voting public, there’s no demonstrable grass level support either, except for people and communities effected by defense sector employment.
People everywhere are little sheep with a mobile they are dead if they lost the mobile , but for sure they know nothing about military aviation.
 

In_A_Dream

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So nobody knows what it is then :) Cheers.
The US trolling the Chinese, they've been on a roll lately. Mass coverage & speculation by defense forums & blogs does the job of provoking a sense of validity to what was seen, causing a stir within the Chinese intelligence & defense communities.
 

sferrin

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So nobody knows what it is then :) Cheers.
The US trolling the Chinese, they've been on a roll lately. Mass coverage & speculation by defense forums & blogs does the job of provoking a sense of validity to what was seen, causing a stir within the Chinese intelligence & defense communities.
I think 450 new silos in the desert wins the troll game.
 

aonestudio

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“We are being more effectively challenged than at any other time in our history,” said Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall. China’s air force is at parity, and in some cases holds an edge over the U.S. .

Air Force futurist Lt. Gen. S. Clinton Hinote emphasized that the Chinese air force is already “at parity … in key areas” with the capabilities of the U.S. Air Force, and in a few “important areas we’re behind, tonight,” although he didn’t offer specifics.

“The light is blinking red,” Hinote told reporters. “We are out of time.”

 

bring_it_on

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- 25% reduction in development time
- 80% reduction in assembly hours

Also note that Boeing is producing a digital-twin for each and every production tail it delivers to the US Air Force or another future customer.

* Usual caveats
 

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totoro

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Does 25% reduction in development time also refer to development done during testing, after the first prototype has flown?
Let's assume it does. Testing and development of various subsystems is what takes most of the time, until IOC is declared. Assembly takes far less time anyway.
So if assembly is cut from, say, 30 months to 6 months, that'll certainly help. But it won't make as huge of a dent into overall development timetable as each of those prototypes would be scheduled to be ready by a certain point in time anyway. Until one step is tested (in practice or digitally) the next step won't have its assembly end date scheduled.
So... I still don't see the timespan between first prototype flight and IOC as being under 75% of F-22 timespan (at best) and 75% of F-35A timespan (at worst). Meaning between 6 and 7.5 years.
Sure, compared to F-35 that seems great. But it still wouldn't be terribly fast.
 

TomcatViP

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No, but more is done during development than before. The multi-domain space that is offered by digital engineering tools and the fidelity that increasingly comes with it decreases drastically testing time (and budgets). Hence the massive cost cuts.
 
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totoro

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So is the period from first prototype flight to IOC equal to the shortened development period, meaning 25%? Or is it more? Or is it less?
 

TomcatViP

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IMOHO we can lousily say yes since the picture is incomplete.
It is also specific to Boeing who, we should notice, has been already pioneering Rapid design since more than a decade.
 
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bring_it_on

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Testing and development of various subsystems is what takes most of the time, until IOC is declared..


So is the period from first prototype flight to IOC equal to the shortened development period, meaning 25%? Or is it more? Or is it less?

.


Digital engineering is one of several design, production, development and acquisition reforms/enhancements/upgrades that are aimed at reducing the time it takes to field weapons. The DE tools processes and supply chain integration goes after the problem of rapidly iterating designs (allowing you to field more mature designs faster in the design and build process), design maturity, and being able to reduce the amount of time it takes to build these systems (which traditionally has taken a long learning curve to master). Time is money so if they can sustainably shrink the assembly time then that will directly lead to cost savings and push the learning curve efficiencies to the left allowing bulk, if not all of the production program to benefit from the lower assembly time and cost. Or so is the hope which the capstone "e-series" programs will have to demonstrate. A point worth nothing here is that Boeing took on a fixed price contract as their first major DE application on a large defense program, and that the Air Force rolled it into one of its most costly modernization programs (GBSD) to start off so what they may have seen in smaller or classified applications of these tools must have been really promising.

What you are getting at in terms of qualifying, testing, and de-bugging mission systems, overcoming integration challenges and software development is only partly solved via this. The main things that are going to attempt to go after that are going to be the requirements process, being judicious with how many high payoff / high-risk sub-systems you go with and other modern design and acquisition elements that specifically target these things. That's where adoption of known OMS standards (not just open architectures but full OMS), and agile software development comes in as does the tech stack ownership and other tools like PlatformOne etc.

Also, the traditional goal posts from an acquisition perspective may not be relevant. If it still takes you 10 years to field a system but what you field in year 10 is dramatically more mature, more capable and more refined than what you would have done with a traditional approach then that is a major win and excellent progress. I think that's what Will Roper kind of hinted at during his last interview before he left the DOD. The milestone gates are defined by the acquisition process and law, and the requirements themselves (how lengthy and precise they are) impact how long a contractor spends designing to them, and how long the tester takes to ensure that each and every delivered attribute meets the specified requirements. Those requirements and what's needed to get past the validation and test phase may also be a limiting factor. Even the mature F-15EX is going to take 5-6 years to make its way to an operational unit from when the program was given a green light.

Roper specifically pointed to the maturity of the first (or first few) B-21's relative to early production or pre-production examples from past programs. And the B-21 is using a digital engineering approach but not the full digital acquisition suite that would give it an "e-series" designation. We'll see soon enough how close they actually come to delivering on that.
 
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totoro

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The thing with maturity is: it's much harder to ascertain for outside viewers like us. it's much harder to prove than saying "see, IOC was just 5 years from first prototype flight".
 

dark sidius

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This guy is saying bullshit; what he want ? China finish the first power on Earth with reflexion like this.
 

sferrin

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Kind of a media full court press to lull the US into not reacting.
 

TinWing

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Kind of a media full court press to lull the US into not reacting.
Reacting to what? During the Eisenhower era defense buildup, America was reacting to the Berlin Airlift, Korean War and communist insurgencies around the globe. Show me a single current event of similar magnitude?

Right now America is facing the return of 1970s style inflation and the most significant expansion of social spending since LBJ. That’s already happening. How are we also going to pay for a very necessary modern parallel to the Eisenhower era defense buildup? Most people forget that a credible defense against the Soviets required over 10% of GDP and a top income tax bracket of 92% back in 1961. Try selling that to voters in 2021.

You and I know that the F-22 buy was tragically limited in terms of airframes, limiting the sustainability of the current fleet past the 2030s and that the USAF needs a higher end compliment to the F-35 and the navy needs a long range platform. Truth be known, we still need a full or expanded build out of the F-35 and B-21 programs at the same time as critical funding for the 6th generation fighter(s).
 

torginus

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The wording is ironic, considering the B-29 that dropped the bombs on Japan cost more to develop than the entire Manhattan project. It's also hyperbolic, since there's no way in hell it's going to match the insane transformative power of gaining nuclear capability.
 

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