The so called ‘sixth generation fighter’ is rumoured to fly at supersonic speeds, although Northrop Grumman, who are developing it, say the specifications are still secret.
The stealth craft is expected to use advanced cooling systems to help disguise its laser systems.
Chris Hernandez, Northrop’s vice president for research, technology and advanced design, told BreakingDefence the sixth-gem fighter will be long range because it won’t have many bases to operate from overseas; it must ‘carry a lot of weapons;’ survivability will be key.
What do those requirements and physics lead you to?
‘This looks a lot like a baby B-2 and this is really getting into our sweet spot,’ Hernandez said.
Northrop Grumman has two design teams working on the new aircraft.
However, the firm would not discuss the plane’s speed, saying that would have to wait for clearer direction from the Pentagon in the future.
It is expected to use laser weapons – and this has caused major problems around heat.
As Northrop president for aerospace Tom Vice said, managing heat will be key.
‘Add in all the aircraft’s power and thrust systems, and you have an enormous heat challenge,’ said Hernandez.
The craft is expected to be used in 2030.
In April 2012, the Navy issued a formal request for information for the F/A-XX.
It calls for an air superiority fighter with multi-role capabilities to replace the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler aircraft in the 2030s,
Boeing and Northrop Grumman are both developing concepts.
Lockheed Martin has been working on next-generation air dominance-related activities with the U.S. Armed Services and most recently the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to determine the best way to maintain air dominance in the post-2035 world.
In October of 2012, Frank Kendall, Undersecretary of Defense, tasked DARPA to explore concepts for the next generation of air dominance.
In an attempt to break the battle space into smaller pieces, DARPA defined separate focus areas that span capabilities across the air dominance battle space.
‘This decomposition may not be perfect and will most certainly be fine-tuned over time, but it does provide a logical construct for looking at the future battle space,’ said Mark Jefferson, director of Next Generation Air Dominance programs at the Skunk Works.
Previous reports say the superjet might even not have a pilot.
According to the Pentagon, it may partially fall in the hands of artificial intelligence (AI).
Reports say that both the US Navy and Air Force are planning next-generation fighters that don’t have just a human pilot.
Future fighter jets may have an AI co-pilot on board that can help with sensory data in addition to autonomously landing the plane on an aircraft carrier.
According to the US Naval Institute (USNI), artificial intelligence will feature prominently on the successors to the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor.
The US Navy is working on the F/A-XX and the Air Force on the F-X, with both designed to replace their predecessors by 2030 at the earliest.
‘AI is going to be huge,’ a US Navy official told the USNI.
While the exact purpose of AI in aircraft isn’t known yet, it could have a number of uses from acting as a co-pilot to carrying out autonomous landings.
According to Popular Science the robotic co-pilots would be especially helpful for aircraft carriers, which are difficult to land on.
Recently the Navy’s X-47B experimental drone landed autonomously on an aircraft, demonstrating the usefulness of AI in such a situation.
AI could also help with something known as advanced sensor fusion.
This involves combining data from various sensors to get a more accurate reading of a situation or location.
The Navy and Air Force are also hoping to get help from industry experts in Silicon Valley to aid them in the design of such sixth-generation fighters.