Meet Boeing's Latest Next-Gen Fighter Concept

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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. 

Discuss this Blog Entry 27

on Nov 1, 2016

A fighter-bomber based design is far more logical than a pure fighter for the GEN6 F-X/Penetrating Counter-air (PCA) requirement.

on Nov 1, 2016

This is an Air Force version of F/A-XX for the Navy.

on Nov 1, 2016

Apparently this is an unmanned fighter since the seat back and canopy do not provide adequate visibility.

on Nov 2, 2016

Comment removed by staff.

on Nov 2, 2016

Comment removed by staff.

on Nov 2, 2016

Actually, a Gen 6 fighter will likely use synthetic vision to provide visibility for the entire sphere surrounding the aircraft - like the F-35 does today. We'll be able to give up the compromise to aerodynamics and low-observables created by the current bubble canopies.

on Nov 3, 2016

Pilot helmet's visor will probably provide a 360 degree virtual vision during flight. The canopy will be mostly be used on the ground.

on Nov 3, 2016

I am sure they can not fit it out with a helmet system like they have in the F35, right? Come on, when you put in real time VR, why put a canopy that will result in drag?

on Nov 4, 2016

It could have a system like the F-35 which uses cameras so the pilot can see virtually everywhere.

on Nov 2, 2016

Top picture is not convincing. Maneuvrability would be pretty poor unless there were pop-out canards. Why are the engine intake 'humps' not better blended with the fuselage? Why is everone so obsessed with eliminating vertical tailplanes?
Bottom image looks like a left-over from early ATF studies. I am not enthused.

on Nov 2, 2016

You trade air to air maneuverability for "stealth" and speed. Stealth, range payload etc is more important going forward than air to air to most experts, inside and out of the DoD. Good luck defeating AIM9X with JHMCS like systems and future lasers. There might be some stealthy thrust vectoring as well to help offset verticle surfaces.

Even the YF23 had a modified tail.

on Nov 2, 2016

". . . 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."

Reality Check: Advanced Tactical Fighter Request For Information released by USAF summer 1981. F-22 supposedly reaches IOC in the last few days of 2005.

It took the USAF essentially a quarter century to develop it's signature "fifth generation fighter." Now it is talking about an even more revolutionary fighter to be developed by 2030, just 14 years away? They are smoking something over in the Pentagon? Or is that 2030 just public relations hype to sucker the people and Congress into another fiasco?

"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."

Translation: The USAF knows it wants something but does not know what it wants.

“Air Superiority 2030” might be hardware in the 2040s but probably later.

Is the USAF thinking ahead? Or is this like the stealth tanker, just another attempt by the USAF to earmark every single R&D dollar the Pentagon has for the future?

The USAF Christmas list of Wunderwaffe is long and getting longer.

"Compare Boeing's newest iteration of the notional fighter capability with an older rendering the company has previously released."

The battle of the sci-fi paintings is on. What fantasy painting will Lockheed present us?

"We do know that PCA will be a “family-of-systems.”

What a Buzz Word! Will the Family-of-Systems have "Connectivity" and be on the "Internet-of-Things"?

"It may also incorporate the new arsenal plane concept, where multiple sensor-shooter aircraft direct fire from an aerial bomb truck crammed with munitions."

That way there will be plenty of Contractor Candy to give out. One to build the multiple "sensor-shooter aircraft," one for the "aerial bomb truck crammed with munitions," and no doubt another for systems integration.

That ought to spread the political graft around.

"The AFSAB study, announced Oct. 27, will begin to define the key operational characteristics of a PCA capability."

Translation: The D-Methamphetamine to Vapor and Gases Conversion Board still has no firm idea of what the USAF wants for Air Superiority 2030."

What ever it eventually is it will have a Knight in Blue riding it like a Valkyrie through the wild blue yonder. Despite the penalties in maneuverability, weight, complexity, cost, availability and maintainability.

What we do know from this article is that:
1. The USAF wants something and it has to be spiffy.
2. The Air Force does not know what it wants.
3. The USAF is thinking 14 years ahead when it's track record shows it can't possibly have it's latest example of megalomania before the 2040s.

on Nov 8, 2016

I say we trick Rumsfeld into coming in.... we even tell him he could bring in Hilary !!! Then ALL OF CONGRESS rushes him at once and shake him by his ankles for dat 2.3 trill he lost on sept. 10 2011 !? right ;)

on Nov 2, 2016

2030, which is a mere 13 years away, might as well be 2130 for the DoD. Tech is moving fast, budgets going nowhere, and programs are taking decades. The F35 will not really get to its prime until 2025.

It will depend on how the next gen, AVET engines come alive.

on Nov 3, 2016

From what has been made public the engines are being perfected prior to the airframes they are going to go into. AVET should be operational in 2021, ready to plug into the 6th generation prototypes and possibly the B-21. DARPA has supposedly been studying for a few years now fast tracking the 6th generation development, so we will see if we break new ground or repeat history with the timelines. As pointed out above the air force usually doesn't know what it is it wants.

on Nov 2, 2016

I think China will fly something like this before the US Air Force does. They appear to have plenty of aeronautical engineers and adequate, stable budgets.

on Nov 2, 2016

Too bad Boeing couldn't have integrated some of this design language to their F/A-18 Super Hornet because the US Navy and countries like Canada would continue buying the Hornet because these are not even mock ups and it will take 2-3 years just to build prototypes and possibly another 5-10 years to get to production.

on Nov 2, 2016

In the near future there will be no more air superiority fighters. The skies will be dominated by arsenal planes featuring MW lasers for defense. Why even bother with stealth when at 40,000 feet in clear skies you can shoot down every enemy plane and missile? Military lasers are currently approaching 100 kw. How long before they reach a MW of power? MW lasers can cut through 14 feet of one inch thick cold rolled steel per second. Therefore we are talking about a laser taking under 100 Milli-seconds to behead a SAM. The Air Force is overthinking this subject. The solution is obvious.

on Nov 3, 2016

I think your point is salient and worth discussing. I think tanks will be one of the immediate beneficiaries of anti-missile lasers since they don't need to worry about weight. Miniaturization will then be applied to and helicopters and planes will be blasting things out of the skies in no time.

on Nov 3, 2016

Interesting point, but likely false. There will always be a place for an air supremacy fighter. The arsenal planes you are advocating will likely be swept from the sky by the very fighters whose demise you profess. Nor can we rule out the man in the cockpit in the presence of cyber warfare - say how do you communicate to the UCAV when the enemy is denying the comms? This is similar to super-SAMs vs air assets. Sure the Russians control the airspace over Syria (and a good portion of ME) with their S-400, but how long will it last against real enemy skilled in SEAD (say US or even the Israelis)? Same goes for the laser-based AD. These systems by definition are passive - they wait for the enemy to show up, but likely will not survive to see it.

on Nov 8, 2016

NAILED IT !!!

on Nov 3, 2016

" ... what’s the point of keeping Boeing alive in the military aircraft business if it doesn’t have the capability to design a new military aircraft? "

richardaboulafia.com/shownote.asp?id=495

on Nov 3, 2016

The DOD opted for an extended development phase for JSF (F-35) wherein changes could be included as things were learned during development. This decision lead to an extended, hence expensive, development. It has arguably also resulted in a more capable platform as it finally reaches deployment.

The comment regarding the Chinese legion of aero engineers and stable budgets causes me to wonder if it would not be better for the US to implement a continuing spiral development system wherein a stable annual budget could be used to continually design / refine / test / introduce new technologies / new systems. As new technologies mature, they can be introduced as part of the appropriate system.

Planforms / outer-mold-line hulls would be one "system." Propulsion another system. Sensors, amraments... different systems.

Of course, the devil always lives in the details, and while this continual spiral development idea may sound nice... the integration of systems is usually critical, esp. from a weight and hence performance perspective.

Still... one giant defense program every quarter century does not seem optimal.

on Nov 3, 2016

WHY PEOPLE HAVE TO ACT CRUEL AND STUPID....EVEN IN A FORUM AS THIS .ESCAPES ME. AVIATION IS INTERESTING AND IMPORTANT IN ALL OF OUR LIVES. LETS KEEP A GOOD NATURE ABOUT IT. WE GET ENOUGH TRASH TALK IN OUR EVERY DAY LIVES .JUST LOOKING AT THE NEWS. THANK YOU

on Nov 3, 2016

Why is it occupied? I bet the PLA air-force has one looking similar soon!!

on Nov 3, 2016

"I think tanks will be one of the immediate beneficiaries of anti-missile lasers since they don't need to worry about weight. "

Actually weight is a major consideration for tank designers. Tanks have to be mobile and weight makes mobility difficult.

on Nov 28, 2016

Just a really basic question on "arsenal plane" vs "loitering munitions"

Are there scaling laws for aircraft that favor one over the other? E.g., when you make an aircraft smaller or larger, how do its range, cost and speed scale?

Ignoring C3 and surviablity, just from aerodynamics and cost, what's the difference between 1 plane with 20 x 1000 lb weapons, and 20 planes, each with a single 1000lb weapon?

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