Boeing is out with new concept art for the U.S. Air Force’s next-generation fighter jet, a sleek, tail-less design featuring conformal engine inlets and what looks like a manned cockpit.
The latest image, provided to Aviation Week Nov. 1, looks more like a fighter-bomber than a pure fighter. The tail-less airframe, thin swept wings and conformal shaping suggest a stealthy, penetrating aircraft that may be able to fly supersonic. The silhouette of a pilot inside the cockpit indicates Boeing is banking on the Air Force sticking with at least an optionally manned platform for the future capability.
Boeing’s new vision comes as the Air Force begins to solidify a plan for the next generation of air superiority, alternatively called “sixth-generation fighter,” “next-generation air dominance,” F-X,” and most recently “Penetrating Counterair” (PCA). The service just kicked off an Air Force Scientific Advisory Board (AFSAB) study that will begin identifying key capabilities needed to fight in the battlefield of 2030 ahead of a formal analysis of alternatives (AoA) for PCA.
The Air Force’s “Air Superiority 2030” initiative identified a hybrid PCA capability as key to ensuring air superiority in future denied battlespaces characterized by sophisticated air defense systems and counterair technologies. But so far, the Air Force has only described PCA in relatively broad terms.
We do know that PCA will be a “family-of-systems,” and will likely include some kind of next-generation stealth fighter to operate alongside and eventually replace Lockheed Martin’s F-22s and F-35s. It may also incorporate the new arsenal plane concept, where multiple sensor-shooter aircraft direct fire from an aerial bomb truck crammed with munitions.
Compare Boeing’s newest iteration of the notional fighter capability with an older rendering the company has previously released:
The AFSAB study, announced Oct. 27, will begin to define the key operational characteristics of a PCA capability. The pre-AoA effort will examine likely adversaries, identify and assess relevant technologies, and determine the timelines and investments needed to mature them. The study aims to provide a technology roadmap to support developing and fielding of an initial PCA capability in 2030.
AFSAB plans to brief top Air Force brass on the results of the study in July 2017, and publish a report in December 2017. The study will support a formal AoA, which is expected to kick off in January.
Stay tuned for more information about Boeing’s next-generation fighter vision.