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USAF rethinks future fleet, ponders clean-sheet 4.5-generation fighter

ARMalik

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You don't need 5th generation fighters to bomb third world countries, or knock their vintage air forces out of the sky.

Its honestly a good move.

Not really, its just pointless using a 5th generation fighters to fight wars that don't require it.

The fact that he wants a new fighter built in the first place says the US isn't running out of money.

Besides, the US military has record high military spending at the moment, so your comment doesn't make sense.
Using a 5th Gen fighter to bomb terrorists would be just simply be insane. 90% of the countries on this planet would still have 4.0 to 4.5 Gen fighter jets in 30 to 40 years time. Hence it would be very uneconomical for the US to have all its Fleet as 5.0 to 5.5 Gen fighters. It makes more financial sense for the US to have a mix fleet of 4.5, 5.0 and 5.5 to 6.0 Gen fighters.
 

Bilal Khan (Quwa)

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The F-35 was apparently conceived as a comparatively lower-cost multi-role aircraft for the next-generation.

However, the F-35 turned out to be a niche solution.

IMHO, the F-35 is not a failure, but a success in that it defined how so-called 6th-gen aircraft should develop (e.g., network-enabled, AI, sensor fusion, etc). The F-35 is also a very capable strike solution, and a feasible option for countries seeking naval fighter wings, but cannot afford a true CATOBAR-based aircraft carrier.

But it didn't amount to the low-cost fleet-builder the USAF was initially may have envisaged. The US may also be worried about fighting actual states again (as opposed to insurgents), hence the need for a fleet builder to make up numbers and carry the brunt of operational requirements.

If the US goes ahead with this clean sheet design, I suspect it'll look something like the KAI KFX. It wouldn't surprise me if they take a look at all of the COTS tech available -- i.e., radars, engines, avionics, materials, etc -- and design a fighter around it using their digital engineering prowess. If the US does it right, they could end up with a new solution for like the cost of an F-16.
 

airmarshal

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first sign of US might, collapsing...
next we will see reduction in numbers and capabilities across the to curb cost....
war in afganistan and middle east basically bankrupted em
printing dollars like water and china buying up trillions of dollars worth of goverment bonds... imagine if china dumps em
Its not collapse. It show how versatile and adaptable US weapons industry is. The F-35 is an overkill. In the era from 1950s to 1970s in weapons technology, the industry advanced several generations. This is why we still see very advanced and high tech weapons today that were developed in 1970s. The F-16 is still a very advanced aircraft for a lot of militaries around the world.
 

Michael Corleone

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Its not collapse. It show how versatile and adaptable US weapons industry is. The F-35 is an overkill. In the era from 1950s to 1970s in weapons technology, the industry advanced several generations. This is why we still see very advanced and high tech weapons today that were developed in 1970s. The F-16 is still a very advanced aircraft for a lot of militaries around the world.
Economic might brother. Just look at the carrier/ destroyer programs...
During ww2 US could build ships like bd makes garments... but then after the war, yards started to close down, now a select few holds dominance, spiraling cost year after year... meanwhile, China is catching up on technology in most areas and making ships and jets like they don’t cost money.
 

FairAndUnbiased

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this is a good solution for the US. If I was a US military planner, I'd recognize that the main challenge is not military, but economic. There's no real military solution to the rivalries with China and Russia. Total war is off the table because the risk is too high. I'd recognize that with the evolution of information technology, AI and space, you don't need every plane to be a self contained 1v1 sensor/shooter platform if you want costs to remain realistic. You'd instead have a vanguard/reserve system where you have the high end i.e. F-22 and F-35 as the vanguard to kick in the door and then act as sensor nodes, for a more heavily armed reserve. This means that you'd need more data sharing, better sensors, and even drone control capabilities. You don't need everything that flies to be a good 1v1 fighter.

The situations that actually require US military action will involve colonial suppression wars in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East to secure the resources and markets of weaker countries to fuel the US economy. Most other actions involving the military do not involve shooting but rather just recon, patrolling and deterrence. Even in a large scale war, you'd expect heavy attrition. Either way, cost effectiveness is paramount.

I'd have more of the F-35s go towards the navy as the tip of the spear to breach enemy defenses, since USN is likely to be the first to respond to a major conflict. For the air force I'd have maybe 400-500 F-35As and 200 F-22s as the high end (more than the number of high end F-15C/E in the 1990's), and then 1000+ low end 4.5 gen fighters replacing the F-15 and F-16 as they reach end of life. This will still result in a total fleet of ~1000 F-35s and 2000+ 4.5 gens (500-600 F-18E/F, remaining 500-600 F-15C/E and F-16C, 1000+ replacements) which is a very strong and cost effective force capable of power projection against weaker countries or far away from peers. The only thing it can't do is project force right up to the doorstep of peers - but that was never going to happen anyways.
 

A.P. Richelieu

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USAF rethinks future fleet, ponders clean-sheet 4.5-generation fighter
18 February 2021

By Garrett Reim


The US Air Force (USAF) is studying a future fighter fleet that might include new Lockheed Martin F-16 fighters or possibly a clean-sheet 4.5th-generation fighter.

The service has for years advocated for recapitalising its fleet with stealth aircraft, in particular the Lockheed F-35. However, in 2020 it deviated from that stealth aircraft buying plan and began purchasing the Boeing F-15EX to replace ageing F-15Cs.


Source: Boeing

Boeing T-7A advanced trainer, an example of an aircraft designed quickly using digital engineering

The F-15EX is an updated variant of the Cold War-era McDonnell Douglas F-15. The USAF says its lower operating costs as well as similar MRO and training requirements to the F-15C were why the fourth-generation fighter was chosen. It also has a larger weapons payload, which might allow the fighter to carry long-range hypersonic missiles. In contrast, the F-35 has been dogged by high operating costs and maintenance troubles.

Now, it seems the USAF is expanding its interest in fourth-generation fighters. It is considering buying a new-build variant of the F-16 or even a clean-sheet design aircraft, says General Charles Brown, chief of staff of the USAF.

“One of the areas we are pushing through is a [tactical air] study for the United States Air Force, to look at what is the right force mix,” he says. “There is a high-end fight. There’s also a mixture for low-end fight.”

Despite acknowledging interest in the F-16, Brown says he has not ruled out starting from scratch.

“I want to be able to build something new and different, that’s not the F-16,” he says. “I want to entertain a clean-sheet design of something that’s not necessarily fourth-gen, but may not be completely fifth-gen either. There’s some other low-end type things in our high-end fight. We need to have the right force [mix].”

Brown says there are some capabilities that the USAF might not be able to get out of the 1970s-era F-16.

“Operational flight profile, we have to wait for those and it’s every couple [of] years,” he says, describing combat aircraft software upgrades. “I was just at Kessel Run (a USAF software development laboratory) yesterday and they said, ‘Instead of waiting a year and a half, you can do this within a matter of minutes by updating the code on an airplane, particularly if you saw a new threat.’ Versus the way we’ve done things in the past, you don’t have that in the F-16 today.”

The idea for a clean-sheet 4.5th-generation aircraft was inspired by the digital engineering work that allowed Boeing to design the T-7A advanced jet trainer in a few years and the work that also allowed the service’s top-secret Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) platform to be designed and test flown in a matter of years, says Brown.

“If we’re going to do software defined, and we have the capability to do something even more capable for cheaper and faster, why not?” he says. “That’s what we’ve learned with our e-series approach with the T-7, and, what we learned with the NGAD. So, the question is: What is the son of NGAD?”

Ultimately, the decision on a clean-sheet 4.5th-generation aircraft would come after analysis and consultation with the Office of the Secretary of Defense and US Congress, Brown says.

“Tac Air has to do some analysis to show what is the right mix, not only capability, but also in numbers, to ensure we are going to be successful in future conflicts,” he says. “That requires some modelling and simulation, and analysis. That’s what I plan to do here over the upcoming months. As we really get into the budget for FY23, that’s where I see that we’ll really make some key decisions.”

The US is looking to develop fighters the same way as SAAB already does. It was SAAB that ensured that the development of the T-7A.
Boeing just adopted the same methods taught by SAAB.
 

LeGenD

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this is a good solution for the US. If I was a US military planner, I'd recognize that the main challenge is not military, but economic. There's no real military solution to the rivalries with China and Russia. Total war is off the table because the risk is too high. I'd recognize that with the evolution of information technology, AI and space, you don't need every plane to be a self contained 1v1 sensor/shooter platform if you want costs to remain realistic. You'd instead have a vanguard/reserve system where you have the high end i.e. F-22 and F-35 as the vanguard to kick in the door and then act as sensor nodes, for a more heavily armed reserve. This means that you'd need more data sharing, better sensors, and even drone control capabilities. You don't need everything that flies to be a good 1v1 fighter.

The situations that actually require US military action will involve colonial suppression wars in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East to secure the resources and markets of weaker countries to fuel the US economy. Most other actions involving the military do not involve shooting but rather just recon, patrolling and deterrence. Even in a large scale war, you'd expect heavy attrition. Either way, cost effectiveness is paramount.

I'd have more of the F-35s go towards the navy as the tip of the spear to breach enemy defenses, since USN is likely to be the first to respond to a major conflict. For the air force I'd have maybe 400-500 F-35As and 200 F-22s as the high end (more than the number of high end F-15C/E in the 1990's), and then 1000+ low end 4.5 gen fighters replacing the F-15 and F-16 as they reach end of life. This will still result in a total fleet of ~1000 F-35s and 2000+ 4.5 gens (500-600 F-18E/F, remaining 500-600 F-15C/E and F-16C, 1000+ replacements) which is a very strong and cost effective force capable of power projection against weaker countries or far away from peers. The only thing it can't do is project force right up to the doorstep of peers - but that was never going to happen anyways.
The American war-machine is structured and equipped to fight near-peer adversaries, and have historically proven to be most effective in conventional warfare. It is not suitable for undertaking costly nation-rebuilding experiments however - these experiments have historically produced mixed results. American politicians have misutilized American war-machine and expected from it to deliver results in pursuit of nation-rebuilding objectives wherever they desired; foolish political decisions TBH. Military forces are not suited to transform foreign societies into flourishing democracies.
 

FairAndUnbiased

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The American war-machine is structured and equipped to fight near-peer adversaries, and have historically proven to be most effective in conventional warfare. It is not suitable for undertaking costly nation-rebuilding experiments however - these experiments have historically produced mixed results. American politicians have misutilized American war-machine and expected from it to deliver results in pursuit of nation-rebuilding objectives wherever they desired; foolish political decisions TBH. Military forces are not suited to transform foreign societies into flourishing democracies.
I don't think so. The US has actually never fought peer adversaries in conventional warfare throughout its entire existence. It has always been at an overwhelming advantage; even in WW2, US had 2x the GDP and population of the entire Axis, and 5x more than Imperial Japan. It has never fought against an opponent with even half of its own GDP. Even with a large, but not overwhelming advantage, such as that against the Soviet Union (where it 'merely' 2x the Soviet GDP), the US refrained from a direct fight.

Therefore, we can say that they don't actually know what will work in an actual near peer war.

Meanwhile, China and Russia have fought multiple peer opponents with equal or greater GDP and won.
 

LeGenD

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I don't think so. The US has actually never fought peer adversaries in conventional warfare throughout its entire existence. It has always been at an overwhelming advantage; even in WW2, US had 2x the GDP and population of the entire Axis, and 5x more than Imperial Japan. It has never fought against an opponent with even half of its own GDP. Even with a large, but not overwhelming advantage, such as that against the Soviet Union (where it 'merely' 2x the Soviet GDP), the US refrained from a direct fight.

Therefore, we can say that they don't actually know what will work in an actual near peer war.

Meanwhile, China and Russia have fought multiple peer opponents with equal or greater GDP and won.
GDP does not define a near-pear adversary in my books. USA was in Great Depression and absolutely under-equipped for World War 2 until 1942 as a reminder. There are numerous battles in which American ground forces were not well-equipped to provide breakthrough in theory but good tactics and well-directed air strikes worked. This was the situation in some of the naval battles as well. Any country which have sufficient industrial capability and supply chain to establish and field a well-equipped military force, and can afford to invade and/or occupy another country (or even countries), is a near-peer adversary to USA in the military context.
 

FairAndUnbiased

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GDP does not define a near-pear adversary in my books. USA was in Great Depression and absolutely under-equipped for World War 2 until 1942 as a reminder. Any country which have sufficient industrial capability and supply chain to establish and field a well-equipped military force, and can afford to invade and/or occupy another country (or even countries), is a near-peer adversary to USA in the military context.
In 1942, Imperial Japan was already running out of oil due to US sanctions and Nazi Germany was already being rolled back by the Soviets after their failed attacks on Britain, Moscow and Leningrad, so that does not negate the primary point. And after WW2, the US did not even attempt to go after the Soviets despite having a far larger economy and geographic territory controlled.

Total GDP is an extremely important parameter in military power. It indicates the potential for industral production to support a military industrial complex and to sustain economic losses without collapse. A large economy doesn't have to choose between guns and butter the way a small economy does. Fundamentally, Germany and Japan lost because they had low GDP. In Wages of Destruction by US economic historian Adam Tooze, he noted that Nazi Germany was economically doomed from the start because they couldn't control enough resources. Albert Speer tried to turn Germany around, but could never solve the fundamental problem of the German economy.

Even American Heritage magazine acknowledges that the Soviets stopped and then defeated the Nazi war machine because their economy, built on Ford style industrialism imported from the US, far overpowered the Nazi one.
 

Ali_Baba

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The US is looking to develop fighters the same way as SAAB already does. It was SAAB that ensured that the development of the T-7A.
Boeing just adopted the same methods taught by SAAB.
And, this is why SAAB's contribution to Tempest is so so very very valuable and why I am so happy to see SAAB has decided to contribute to it.

Modern aircraft have to become more modular, and more digital in their design and this is exactly where SAAB excels. SAAB achieves far more than it should for a company of that size, because they are both pragmattic and smart about how they do things at the same time.

I am not sure Sweden will purchase the Tempest as the platform maybe too large for Sweden, but BAE will benefit from SAAB's experience in the T-7A programme, and that is good enough a reason to get them involved and SAAB will benefit from participating and learning from being involved in what will the most successfull European 6-Gen programme.

Iterms of the development of Tempest, the critical software systems of the platform have to be seperated from those for the weapon systems, so that you can have faster iteration of the latter, without having to continually re-certify the "former". This also, is part of the design of the Tempest, with an "App Store" like approach to the development of new weapons integration onto the plaform and that integration being more easily accessible to allies.

The basic premise being that countries buy the core platform and develop their own apps and certify them, themselves. It becomes more open, rather than the restrictive closed-garden approach the americans have adopted so far with the F35 where everything has to be approved by the USA goverment and Lockheed Martin.

I really do think that the right decisions have been made at the outset for the Tempest programme and these decisions will feed into the 40 year lifespan of the platform.

I cannot say much for the FCAS right now, i can see that it is still going through the usual posturing, and politics that comes with all EU based programmes.

I am not sure of the logic of developing a 4.5 Gen platform right now is. The F35 is a failure because of decisions taken during day 1 of, not the need for stealth...

The USA should join the Tempest programme as an observor and if the platform operates to the required standard, then they can buy a license to manufacture it, the same way they did with the Goshawk(BAe Hawk), or the AV-8B(Harrier). From the outset, Tempest will have a modular design approach to both hardware and software and support the latest agile development techniques.

The Tempest programme will be developed without all of the usual political posturing of USA Senators attempt to get their "state" onto the development and manufacturing roadmap, etc which has made the F35 so problemmatic.. It will be free from a lot of political noise that always increases the costs of the projects....
 
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That Guy

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think we are headed in the direction of war attrition again where you build 'em cheap and in mass numbers...
I don't know about that.

It feels more like the US doesn't expect to go to war anytime soon with its main rivals, Russia and China. On the other hand, it probably does expect to go to war with nations that are economically and militarily much weaker than it, as has been the case since the end of the Korean War; potentially Iran, or even North Korea being contenders here.

Using a 5th generation fighter against a nation with a barely functional air force is like using a nuke on an ant hill: overkill.

The US military is built upon avoiding wars of attrition, which is why they've invested so heavily on logistics; not having to fight on their own soil also helped them build a huge logistical web across the globe. If you're fighting wars on foreign soil, you won't have a large force immediately available for deployment, so avoiding wars of attrition are a necessity for nations like the US. Funnily enough, even their drone programs are designed to use as few drones as possible to achieve their objectives.
 
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