A Boeing concept image of an aircraft design for the U.S. Navy's "F/A-XX" sixth-generation fighter. (Boeing)
Even as the F-35, America’s first 5th generation fighter, struggles to achieve liftoff, the U.S. Air Force is starting to plan on how to get the 6th generation of jets off the ground.
What capabilities a 6th generation jet will possess remains unclear, but Gen. Mike Hostage, the head of Air Combat Command, dropped some hints at an event hosted this morning by the Center for Strategic and Informational Studies.
During a question-and-answer session, Hostage reiterated a DoD timeline that a new generation of fighter will be needed by 2030.
“That’s why we’re already looking at what defines the 6th generation,” Hostage said. “It’ll be some kind of game-changing ability. Don’t yet know what it is, but we’re out there looking at it carefully.”
After his speech, Hostage expanded on his comments to reporters.
“We’re trying to decide what [a 6th generation technology] is,” he said. “We’re looking at technologies that hold promise to potentially define 6th gen, but we haven’t said ‘that’s it, we’re going down that path.’ We’re starting today to try and define it, because it takes so dang long to procure things,” Hostage added.
The 5th generation fighter designs have been defined by their stealth abilities. Hostage declined to go into specifics on what the Air Force is looking at but hinted it would not be a single piece of technology that moved jets into the 6th generation designation.
“There are some very exciting technologies out there,” Hostage said. “I believe it will be a combination, I don’t believe it will be one ... radical thing that says, ‘We’ll do things completely differently.’ I think it will be a combination of some really interesting technologies that will produce the game-changing capabilities.”
However, the possibility of a top-end next generation fighter doesn’t erase the need for other aspects of the Air Force fleet. Hostage said air power still demands a “family of systems,” including the proposed long-range bomber that Air Force Chief of Staff Mark Welsh has identified as one of his key programs.
“We can’t afford to build that one lone piece of equipment that can do anything, everything, anywhere,” said Hostage.