Northrop Unveils Sixth Gen Fighter Concept

crew-2231211Multi-Mission Capability for Emerging Global Threats

The designation of fighter aircraft by “generations” began with the first subsonic jets toward the end of World War II, with each new generation reflecting a major advance in technology and capability.

The F-35 Lightning II is referred to as a 5th Generation fighter, combining advanced stealth capabilities with fighter aircraft speed and agility, fully-fused sensor information, network-enabled operations and advanced logistics and sustainment.

The supersonic, multi-role F-35 represents a quantum leap in air dominance capability with enhanced lethality and survivability in hostile, anti-access airspace environments.

The F-35 combines 5th Generation fighter aircraft characteristics — advanced stealth, integrated avionics, sensor fusion and superior logistics support — with the most powerful and comprehensive integrated sensor package of any fighter aircraft in history. The F-35’s advanced stealth allows pilots to penetrate areas without being detected by radars that legacy fighters cannot evade.

The F-35 is designed with the entire battlespace in mind, bringing new flexibility and capability to the United States and its allies. Reliance on any single capability — electronic attack, stealth, etc. — is not sufficient for success and survivability in the future. Missions traditionally performed by specialized aircraft — air-to-air combat, air-to-ground strikes, electronic attack, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance — can now be executed by a squadron of F-35s.

“People think stealth is what defines 5th Gen[eration aircraft]. It’s not the only thing.
It’s stealth and then the avionics and the fusion of avionics.”
—Gen. Mike Hostage, Former Commander, Air Combat Command, U.S. Air Force

Electronic Attack

Advanced electronic warfare (EW) capabilities enable F-35 pilots to locate and track enemy forces, jam radars and disrupt attacks with unparalleled effectiveness. Advanced avionics give the pilot real-time access to battle space information with 360-degree coverage and an unparalleled ability to dominate the tactical environment. Data collected by sensors on the F-35 will immediately be shared with commanders at sea, in the air or on the ground, providing an instantaneous, high-fidelity view of ongoing operations – making the F-35 a formidable force multiplier while enhancing coalition operations. This system allows F-35 pilots to reach well-defended targets and suppress enemy radars.

Data collected by sensors on the F-35 will immediately be shared with commanders at sea, in the air or on the ground, providing an instantaneous, high-fidelity view of ongoing operations – making the F-35 a formidable force multiplier while enhancing coalition operations. This system allows F-35 pilots to reach well-defended targets and suppress enemy radars.

This system allows F-35 pilots to reach well-defended targets and suppress enemy radars.

Air-to-surface

The F-35’s very low-observable (VLO) stealth allows it to safely enter defended airspace areas without being seen by radars that 4th Generation and earlier legacy fighters cannot evade.

The combination of the stealth features, active electronically-scanned array (AESA) radar technology, and the aircraft’s ability to carry its full component of weapons stores and fuel internally allows F-35 pilots to engage ground targets at longer ranges without being detected and tracked, using precision-guided munitions and air-to-air radar-guided  missiles to successfully complete air-to-ground missions.

In this “clean” configuration, the F-35 will enter the air battlespace first, clearing the way with air dominance for follow-on legacy coalition forces to operate with relative impunity.

Air-to-air

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Breaking Defense October 30, 2016

 

northrop-grumman-long-range-strike-bomber-concept-lrsb

Northrop Grumman’s sixth-generation fighter concept NGAD Prototype 2015

PALMDALE, CALIF: Northrop Grumman unveiled its vision of the so-called sixth-generation fighter, showing reporters a laser-firing aircraft that looks like a cross between the B-2 bomber and the X-47B drone.

Chris Hernandez, Northrop’s vice president for research, technology. and advanced design, laid out the basic parameters for the sixth-gen fighter (Northrop refers to it as NG Air Dominance): it must boast long range because it’s unlikely to 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 told us.

Northrop Grumman has two design teams working on the new aircraft. Northrop’s top aerospace systems executives, who offered reporters a rare glimpse at the company’s inner workings here, would not discuss the plane’s speed, saying that would have to wait for clearer direction from the Pe

One of the keys to this new weapon, which is in the earliest stages of head-scratching and planning, will be heat management.  As Northrop president for aerospace Tom Vice noted, lasers operate at 33 percent efficiency when all goes well. That means there’s enormous heat to dissipate and that will be just from the lasers.

Add in all the aircraft’s power and thrust systems, and you have an enormous heat challenge. It needs to be managed on a system level because of the aircraft’s assumed low observable requirements, Hernandez told me. The level of complexity will make this aircraft something like an advanced satellite, where electromagnetic interference, heat offload and power requirements pose compelling and existential challenges to the system.

If you look at Boeing’s sixth generation concept you can see how much physics and low observability (stealth) are driving the form of these aircraft. However, the Northrop aircraft appears to build in more of the all-aspect stealth lessons of the B-2.
If range and payload are key parameters for these stealthy aircraft, they’re likely to be damn big for fighters and to incorporate many of the lessons learned from the B-2 — and, we assume, from the B-3 (LRSB).
I asked Hernandez if the sixth generation fighter would end up as the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) study posits —  really big aircraft with very long range — and he went straight on with his presentation.

Northrop Grumman paid for my hotel and flew reporters to and from California on a corporate jet.

 

THE END

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