Forget F-35s: The Navy Wants a 6th Generation Stealth Fighter

Kris Osborn

Key point: Militaries are always thinking several steps ahead about what the ideal weapons systems of the future could be.

The Navy is currently analyzing air frames, targeting systems, AI-enabled sensors, new weapons and engine technologies to engineer a new 6th-Generation fighter to fly alongside the F-35 and ultimately replace the F/A-18.

The Navy program, called Next-Generation Air Dominance, has moved beyond a purely conceptual phase and begun exploration of prototype systems and airframes as it pursues a new, carrier-launched 6th-Gen fighter to emerge in 2030 and beyond, service officials explained.

“Some important areas of consideration include derivative and developmental air vehicle designs, advanced engines, propulsion, weapons, mission systems, electronic warfare and other emerging technologies,” Navy spokeswoman Lt. Lauren Chatmas told Warrior earlier this year.

A formal Analysis of Alternatives, expected to complete this year, is weighing the advantages of leveraging nearer-term existing technologies such as new variants or upgrades to cutting edge weapons, sensors and stealth configurations - or allowing more time for leap-ahead developmental systems to emerge.

The current analysis follows a now-completed Initial Capabilities Document detailing some of the sought-after requirements for the new aircraft, or “family of aircraft,” Chatmas explained.

Anticipated decisions about a 6th-Gen fighter balance themselves upon the as-of-yet unknown maturity of various promising new weapons and technologies nearing a threshold of operational possibility.

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