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Boeing Phantom Works keeping T-X and F-X plans under wraps

Boeing Phantom Works president Darryl Davis is refusing to take Northrop’s bait by disclosing new information about his advanced research and design unit’s secretive “T-X” and future fighter projects.

In an interview with Flightglobal in Washington this week, Davis stayed tight-lipped on when the company intends to fly the clean-sheet, next-generation trainer it is developing with Saab for the air force.

The most that has been revealed about the Boeing T-X alternative is an artist’s impression of the twin-seat advanced pilot trainer’s long nose and forward cockpit.

More was revealed to VIPs attending the Air Warfare Symposium in September, but reporters were not granted access.

“We’ve publically stated that Boeing is working with Saab on clean sheet design. Beyond that, I’m not going to share any more details,” he said on the sidelines of the CNAS National Security Forum.

Northrop recently assembled reporters in California where it unveiled a “slightly outdated” model of its clean-sheet T-X design, which it intends to unveil and fly early next year. Northrop also released an image of a stealthy, laser-armed, swept-wing “sixth-generation” fighter for next-generation air dominance.

Davis contends that “it’s not about a pointy-ended airplane just yet”.

Instead, the Phantom Works is working on a range of technologies that collectively might enable the US military to dominate the skies.

“From where I sit in Phantom Works, what are we doing to make sure those technologies are in some state of development, and are they on a path to mature?” he says. “You have sensors, you have airplanes, you have weapons, you have electronic effects, you have cyber. There’s a whole kitbag of effects you can apply.

“You obviously want to defeat your enemy, but there are many ways to do defeat an enemy.”

He says the US air force and navy may take different approaches for their respective F-X and F-XX requirements to follow the F/A-18 and F-22 and ensure Western air dominance into the 2030s – but there will also be plenty of commonality. It also too early to tell if it will evolve into a joint endeavour like the Lockheed Martin F-35 or separate airplanes or close derivatives, Davis adds.

One main piece of the air dominance puzzle is weapons, and whether a platform can perhaps trade speed and manoeuvrability for more agile long-range weapons.

“Wherever you move that requirement, it costs money somewhere on that kill chain, so it’s about understanding where is the best leverage for that particular attribute and that cost-effective breakdown.”

There is currently plenty of work on directed energy weapons, like lasers and high-power microwave beams, he says. Phantom Works is also known to be working on nearer-term weapons, like the DARPA Triple Target Terminator (T3).

Wherever Boeing stands today, it will undoubtable be at a disadvantage if can’t reverse the air force’s selection of Northrop to design and built the Long-Range Strike Bomber. That programme is worth upwards of $80 billion and its development will involve some of the most classified, cutting-edge aerospace technologies.

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