Propulsion is key to the US Navy's next-generation F/A-XX fighter to replace the service's Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fleet in the 2030s.
"That's the long-lead item, frankly," says Rear Admiral William Moran, director of the N98 air warfare office at USN headquarters. "In terms of technology it takes you to another place."
The USN will have to engage with industry to determine where the "art of the possible" might lead the service. "Propulsion has a lot of benefits, and we know its kind of the critical path to new developments," he says.
What is clear is that for a next-generation fighter to fly faster, over greater distances and then persist over a target area, all the while carrying a greater payload, means that the aircraft will require a new type of propulsion system, Moran says. That means such a fighter must be able conserve fuel while it is not operating at peak combat performance levels.
Next-generation propulsion systems should also be scalable to different applications, Moran says. That would afford the USN some level of commonality on the carrier deck of the future if parts of the air wing could share the same logistical train and skill sets for maintenance crews.
Moran reiterates his Naval Air System Command counterpart's--Rear Admiral Donald Gaddis--comments that the next-generation fighter must have far better kinematic performance and range than existing fighters. That is particularly true in an anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) environment.
"If you look at the A2/AD environment, and that arc, overtime, is going to grow larger. We have to stay ahead of that," Moran says. "So the weapons have to be able fill that. And the only way you're going to do it is have greater kinematics."
That would have to be balanced with stealth and other factors.
The US Air Force and USN are both working on new fighter technologies and may find some benefit from each other's developmental efforts. It is possible that the two services might develop common subsystems but build different airframes based on their divergent needs, he says. But that has yet to be determined.
The USN issued a Request for Information (RfI) for a new fighter to replace the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler in the 2030s on 13 April.