Boeing plots return to next-generation fighter market



Copyright: Boeing



Boeing graciously heeded my pleas to interview someone about their 1/16th scale model  and poster (above) at Navy League displaying two concepts for an all-new fighter jet that would appear after 2025.

I admit the idea of launching a development program for a new, at least optionally-manned fighter seems ludicrous after the early termination of F-22 production — not to mention the ongoing concerns about F-35 cost and performance.

But a Boeing official told me the acquisition process for a new fighter for the US Navy and US Air Force has already begun. The navy has renamed its program from F/A-XX to next generation air dominance (NGAD) as it enters the analysis of alternatives stage. The air force, meanwhile, also is starting an alternatives study for an F-22 replacement.

As far-fetched as the idea seams, there is a real need. After the F-35 replaces the navy’s F/A-18Cs and the air force’s F-16s and A-10s, something has to replace the F/A-18E/F and F-22.



Boeing is betting that something will be a clean-sheet, tailless fighter design. Concepts displayed at Navy League show off a 40,000lb-class fighter for carrier decks. The air force would likely need an airframe at least 50% larger to replace the 60,000lb-class F-22. If the airframes are not common, the air force and navy would likely be pressured to share the cockpit avionics and — possibly — engines.

Read a preview of my full story in next week’s magazine on the jump. 


Boeing unveils strike fighter options

Boeing used the show to reveal two concepts for a stealthy, tailless, supercruising strike fighter to replace the US Navy’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornets after 2025.

Both twin-engine concepts, which feature optionally piloted cockpits, resemble a modern-day replacement for the ill-fated A-12 Avenger. The carrier-based stealth bomber project was cancelled in 1991 amid cost overruns and technical problems.

But the provisionally 9g-rated airframes also reflect the air-to-air performance once provided by the Grumman F-14, says Dave Thieman, a development official in Boeing’s advanced global strike systems division.

Talk of replacing the F/A-18E/F, which entered service from 1999, may seem premature, but the earliest stages of the navy’s acquisition process have already started.

“They’re going to need [replacement] vehicles beyond 2025,” says Thieman.

In June 2008, navy officials unveiled an F/A-XX requirement, including manned and unmanned airframe options.

More recently, the service has renamed the requirement as next generation air dominance (NGAD), seeking to widen the possibilities to include new airframes or land-based systems, such as missiles.

An analysis of alternatives is expected to start in late 2011, potentially leading to a technology demonstration phase with competing prototypes about two years later. Boeing’s rivals are likely to include both manned and unmanned options.

For Boeing, NGAD represents a strategic opportunity to re-enter the US market for next-generation strike aircraft, which seemed lost after Lockheed Martin claimed the Joint Strike Fighter contract.

Boeing officials have focused on the navy’s thinking for a Super Hornet replacement that remains at least 15 years away.

The company understands that its potential customer wants a replacement with more engine power to supercruise, with the low observable aircraft to also carry internal weapons, distributed sensors and have extreme agility.

“It’s a [Lockheed] F-22 on the carrier,” Thieman says.

Meanwhile, the US Air Force has launched a capabilities-based analysis for an F-22 replacement. Like the Super Hornet, the fighter remains in active production, but the air force expects a replacement will be required after 2025.

If funding for a replacement programme can be found, there is likely to be pressure for the air force and navy to launch a joint technology demonstration.

In that situation, the air force may require a bigger airframe than a carrier-based fighter, though the projects could share common engines, systems and weapons, Thieman believes.

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36 Responses to Boeing plots return to next-generation fighter market

  1. Don 7 May, 2010 at 1:45 pm #

    Replace the A-10 with something like this?

    The Brass never learn.

    First the P-47, Then the SPAD, now the A-10.

    High loiter time, massive ordinance and guns. That’s close air support. Not some sexed up, tailless, freak of a plane.

  2. ikkeman 7 May, 2010 at 3:21 pm #

    By Don

    will YOU never learn?
    “If it ain’t broke, it aint got ‘nough features yet!”
    ;-)

    MORE PICTURES!!! (Please)

  3. Bjørnar Bolsøy 7 May, 2010 at 3:27 pm #

    Interesting. The model and poster depict two quite different designs; intakes on top rather than the belly, different tail and wing planform and the jet in the foreground appears to be unmanned.

    B. Bolsøy
    Oslo

  4. Stephen Trimble 7 May, 2010 at 3:29 pm #

    That’s correct. Two different concepts here. Very different wing planforms, as well as different intakes.

  5. Bjørnar Bolsøy 7 May, 2010 at 3:29 pm #

    Ah, I just spotted the preview..

    B. Bolsøy
    Oslo

  6. BDF 7 May, 2010 at 3:50 pm #

    Interesting, the new design looks like a rhinoceros. This design is clearly designed for all aspect wideband VLO. Features that stick out to counter low frequency radars such as intakes on top, canopy that blends smoothly with the outer mold line, that distinctive beak-like nose and a smooth nearly flat bottom. It appears to me that the new design looks to be a further evolution then the configuration of the model. One improvement is the smoothly blended trailing edge wing and fuselage.

  7. Bjørnar Bolsøy 7 May, 2010 at 3:50 pm #

    Any words on export potential and timeline? I’d guess 2030 earliest (if ever allowed for export..). Curious if the unmanned options will be built as a completely separate airframes, JSF-style commonality approach.

    B. Bolsøy
    Oslo

  8. Neil Baumgardner 7 May, 2010 at 3:59 pm #

    As Thieman’s comments indicate, I would say its closer to a rebirth of the old NATF concept (in appearance or role), than the A-12.

  9. sferrin 7 May, 2010 at 4:10 pm #

    Why “ludicrous” and “far-fetched”? Frankly I’d be astonished if they WEREN’T working on the F-22′s replacement. You can’t just say “okay, all done, everybody go home and don’t forget to turn out the lights”. How on earth would they ever come up with a replacement if they don’t design it? It’s not going to just fall out of the sky and given today’s development cycles, if they want it to be ready when it’s needed they need to be working on it right now.

  10. aeroxavier 7 May, 2010 at 5:04 pm #

    another paper plane and paper info

  11. sferrin 7 May, 2010 at 5:15 pm #

    Gotta start somewhere. Better than doing nothing and then wishing when it’s time to produce.

  12. SMSgt Mac 8 May, 2010 at 1:37 am #

    More competition in the future?
    Good and good for America. As a non-Boeing employee that has been deafened by the chest-thumping bloviations from my Boeing ‘partner’ in the past, I might be willing to stay in the game a little longer just for the satisfaction of knee-capping their best-laid plans.
    Bring it.

  13. bobbymike 8 May, 2010 at 1:48 am #

    It will be very interesting to see the state of engine technology in the 2025 time frame ADVENT and VAATE, duel mode combined cycle going from 0 to high Mach numbers from a single airframe. Directed energy anti and counter air? Should be fun I wish for a long life just to see the advancement of technology.

  14. Howe 8 May, 2010 at 3:56 am #

    Its way to early to start work on the Raptors replacement.

    look, I understand that you dont start work on the next-gen fighter when you would like to have it, you begin the work around 15-20 years before that.

    But the raptor isn’t going to be obsolete in 20 years, odds are it will still be the best fighter jet in the world.

    We need to start having things last longer…cause we have no money. The money that is paying for this, should be going to paying off our ridiculously high national debt.

  15. Charley A. 8 May, 2010 at 2:46 pm #

    Perhaps the Navy can back out of the F-35C, buy upgraded Supers in the interim, and develop this aircraft instead? At least it looks more like a naval aircraft than the F-35C: two engines and two crew members.

  16. sferrin 8 May, 2010 at 10:41 pm #

    Howe: If you don’t start working on it now where do you think you’re going to find people to do it when you need it? The whole “lets do nothing for five or ten years” mentality when it comes to things dependant on perishable skills makes my head hurt. When it’s demonstrated by those in positions to totally torpedo this country. . .well, it doesn’t get more depressing than that.

  17. Dave 10 May, 2010 at 4:30 am #

    While I think we as a nation should be looking at a replacement for both the Raptor and F/A-18E/F, this is premature given Gates’ plans to restructure the US military at a fundamental level. Do we know if carriers will still be the primary means of power projection in Gates’s brave new world?

    That being said, the Secretary does have a point- can we assume the carrier will be survivable given other nations’ investments in anti-access technologies such as anti-ship ballistic missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles, not to mention sea mines and air independent diesel subs? Perhaps the carrier will need to stand-off away from the threat until those enemy defenses are eliminated. However, if carriers have to stand-off, it destroys their primary advantage of generating sorties rapidly from close in… Further can we ever afford to lose a carrier? It’s pretty close to being unthinkable. All of which calls into question their utility, especially given their astronomical price tag

    Which leads me to my final point… the Secretary is right in that all of our gear is getting to the point where we can’t buy enough in terms of numbers and the ones we can buy are so expensive we can’t afford to lose even a single unit. Losing a single B-2 or a Burke class destroyer is tantamount to a national disaster for example. Despite the fact that the F-22 is useless in Iraq or Afghanistan, another reason they haven’t been deployed into the AOR just to give them the ‘combat proven’ street cred is that we can’t afford to lose one.

    Given the economic realities, and the fact the our stuff has gotten to the point where it’s all so expensive that we can’t afford to put them into harm’s way, can we afford to develop a new fighter- especially a tactical carrier based fighter? Given the budget constraints and question of survivability of the launch platform? Given that these things always end up costing an arm and a leg to develop and field? Perhaps the whole thing needs to be looked at in a completely new way.

    Just playing Devil’s advocate… this is all way above my pay grade.

  18. alloycowboy 10 May, 2010 at 10:46 pm #

    Great another new aircraft so another new computer operating system and avionics suite! Why doesn’t the US Military come out with a standardized computer operating system for all their aircraft? What is the point writing a new operating system for each and every aircraft and avionics suite? That is just dumb, expensive, and slows the pace of aircraft development. All weapons systems on US aircraft should be “plug and play” exactly like USB devices for your computer. You should be able to bolt them on, plug them in, have the operating system recognize the hardware, and then go fly. With a standardized avionics package and operating system you would be able to rapidly design, build, and modify aircraft. So you would be able to field new aircraft in months rather then years or decades in the case of the F-22 and F-35.

  19. Michael 11 May, 2010 at 3:57 pm #

    Dave, you make alot of sense on the subject of cost. Carriers and their air wings are hugely expensive. How about we get rid of the Air Force and just keep Navy air wings. They can deploy and protect CONUS. The question Gates should be asking is do we need Bones and B-2s, not do we need 11 Carriers? I know it’s a cliche but the first thing a President asks when the balloon goes up is where are the carriers? Not where are the Raptors, Lancers or Spirits! Many countries are striving to build carriers, China,Russia and India are examples. The UK has at last seen sense and is building two 65000 ton ships……hopefully.

    Just an idea….I really love the Air Force.

  20. Grandad 11 May, 2010 at 4:13 pm #

    First picture looks very much like a Eurofighter Typhoon without a fin.

  21. SMSgt Mac 14 May, 2010 at 3:18 am #

    RE: “Why doesn’t the US Military come out with a standardized computer operating system for all their aircraft?”…”All weapons systems on US aircraft should be “plug and play” exactly like USB devices for your computer. You should be able to bolt them on, plug them in, have the operating system recognize the hardware, and then go fly”

    Well, aside from exacting performance and robustness standards that are required from flying electronics, the idea is spot on. Guess what? Such an approach is already underway on a program: It’s called the F-35.

    From: http://www.mc.com/mediacenter/pressrelease.aspx?id=9232
    “The ICP is the sensor processing system for the F-35 and is implemented in an open-system architecture designed to maximize the use of standards-based, commercially available products. Lockheed Martin’s ICP is a liquid-cooled, ruggedized multicomputer capable of performing 40 billion sustained operations per second. The onboard system enables the F-35 to perform multi-mission computing to process electronic warfare, electro-optical, infrared and radar data.”

    See also: http://www.militaryaerospace.com/index/display/article-display/372899/articles/military-aerospace-electronics/volume-21/issue-2/news/news/f-35-joint-strike-fighter-leverages-cots-for-avionics-systems.html – for what the program is doing with this capability.

  22. Charley A. 14 May, 2010 at 2:46 pm #

    Several avionics systems being developed for the F-35 were originally fielded in the F/A-18 E/F/G, so there is a sort of commonality. But avionics / electronics / software evolve at a dizzying pace, I don’t think that it would be possible to have a standard package across platforms. The f-35 series supposedly has 3 times as many lines of code than the F-22….

  23. SMSgt Mac 14 May, 2010 at 3:55 pm #

    I would only add to Charley A’s statement that all electronics have been evolving at a dizzying pace.
    Modern programs are ‘requirements-pull’ vs. ‘technology-push’: they only push the state-of-the-art where it is necessary to field the required capability. Software is the hardest thing to do “well”, and (according to a DAU course I just wrapped up) ~70% of sub-systems in modern weapons are considered ‘software-intensive’. Things are not getting easier.
    If we want to EVER bring advanced weapon systems development ‘under control’ (System Tester rant alert!) we will have to change the ‘commercial’ software development culture that pervades all software efforts. It will be tough to do, because commercial software development is the dominant market in size by several orders of magnitude. Processes that produce “good enough” S/W for the XBox or your latest Apple OS aren’t good enough for S/W that keeps an airplane’s pointy-end forward. Step One: stop hiring Asperger Syndrome whiz kids who like to play alone with their little ones and zeros on their desktop, and resent independent evaluation. Start hiring Team Players that understand the end-use and realize that their code doesn’t do diddly-squat by itself.

  24. Starviking 17 May, 2010 at 4:38 am #

    The software problems go both ways – purchasers think that just because the product is lines of code that it can be chopped and changed at will – leading to an extreme version of requirements creep that has generations of a week or two.

    There’s a good quotation from my time in eBusiness that is equally applicable to military procurement of all colours:

    “On time, to spec, to budget: pick any two.”

  25. power generator 18 June, 2010 at 9:53 am #

    everyone needs to get involved

  26. Howard Lederer of FULLTILT 17 July, 2010 at 10:35 pm #

    Win More Enjoy More

  27. Nicky Mermelstein 23 July, 2010 at 9:01 am #

    SSF4 arcade select screen has two new open spots! I hope its Rolento and Elana

  28. Dog Aggression 23 July, 2010 at 11:02 am #

    Excellent job.

  29. jason 30 August, 2010 at 4:15 am #

    looking like updating and streamlining the f-22 would be the best way to go? it’s plain to understand how it’s possible that the f-22 was a inflated and all new to everyone, i no pro but it looks like it could be streamedlined to be much cheaper, and with new radars sensors blo blo & ect. that the way it always goes? now if the f-22 was a duck or turkey then start over from zipo, but we are talk money and the liberals hate money spent on weapons to be #1 nation and what it takes to be that,but who wants to waste money,i think the f-18e/f f-22 could be great military ac for yrs to come, sell a striped f-22 to the aussies gov build more know how for us the use in future, cash and building interest at the sametime

  30. Charley 30 August, 2010 at 2:58 pm #

    A navalized F-22 was considered at one point, but dropped due the the expense (money & weight) of the structural modifications necessary for catobar operations. Carrier capable aircraft need to be designed as such from the very beginning. The F-35C was in fact redesigned after initially trying to utilize the core F-35 configuration – luckily everyone was smart enough to review the original F-35C design before committing.

  31. Erwin Juban 3 November, 2010 at 3:03 am #

    What is it with the Air Force and the other US Branches? they just seem to keep on coming up with excuses to Get money from the people. Hey the F-18Hornet, & A-10 still works great so why replace it? Hey like another commentor said hey if it aint broken don’t replace it.

  32. DonM 14 February, 2011 at 11:03 pm #

    I would suggest that the US acquisition process needs to be streamlined, to not take 10 years to go from initial requirement to first flight. The way it is now, the requirements at the time of first flight are limited by the technology projection when the requirements are written.

    The best WWII fighter (P-51) was derived by accident. The good US fighters were improved into existance, and then applied to roles where they could succeed. (like the P-47 that was pushed down from high altitude to become the best interdiction aircraft).

    We would get none of those world beaters today. Rather we would have settled on early requirements and designs, and forced our pilots to fly the P-38 and P-40 on into the Korean War.

    The market permits quick development of good solutions, that actually respond to reality. By contrast, the Nazi and Soviet procurement system begin and ended with the Party Line with no deviations that respond to reality.

  33. hawkeyefan 8 March, 2011 at 12:34 am #

    Concerning the f/a-xx, I have a family member who works for Boeing and was involved in a conversation regarding an updated f-23 as the NGAD contender.

  34. John 30 April, 2011 at 6:23 pm #

    In the last 20 years, defense projects have perfected the method of pissing away as much taxpayer money as humanly possible in exchange for next to nothing.

    Step 1: Spend 25 billion dollars and 15 years developing something we don’t need.

    Step 2: 3 months before production begins in 2024, Boeing doubles the flyaway cost per airplane to a ludicrous $300 million apiece.

    Step 3: Build 12 of them, then close down the production line due to cost overruns.

    The score: Boeing: + $25 billion
    Taxpayers: Screwed
    Politicians and Brass resposible for the scam: Rewarded with cushy vice-presidencies at Boeing

  35. garfield 23 June, 2011 at 7:57 am #

    Why are we wasting money on manned airplanes. Future is in UCAVS ,precision projectiles and directed energy weapons. Due to expected proliferation of satellites and possibility of china and india fitting AESA RADARS in a satellite current stealth designs may not remain too stealthy . Combat doctrines are changing .SO should research . And there is surely some scam going on .

  36. Fighterfanboy 3 August, 2011 at 10:54 pm #

    Replacing the A-10? The A-10 is to Killin tanks what a hammer is to driving in a nail. You don’t have to do nothing fancy, you just hit the nail on the head till its in. Sure you could use a nail gun but that’s why the A-10′s have tank missiles and a tank GUN! Ant broke don’t fix it.As for F-15/16/18s they’re broke and need fixin. Can’t touch a Raptor/Lightning. That means someday the bad guys will have stealth too. A-10 still kills tanks like no other! When that changes, replace it.

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