Meet Boeing's Latest Next-Gen Fighter Concept


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 34

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 Mar 28, 2017

Why show China and Russia EXACTLY what shape you plan on making your new toy?

on Nov 7, 2017

Vertical tailfins are the main reason current air superiority or any fighter jet isn't as stealthy as a B-2 bomber. And in a future they will have to be. USAF is willing to sacrifice some maneuverability since it won't matter as much in 2030-2040 time frame like it does today. Mainly because air to air missiles will be so advanced you won't be able to evade them with pure kinematic performance. Also the use of laser as a defensive weapon will negate the need for supermanueverability. Speed and all aspect stealth (even against UHF and VHF) is the name of the game for a 6th gen fighters. Lockheed and Northrop have also released their concepts for a 6th gen fighter and they both represent a tailless design.

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 Apr 5, 2017

Anyone else think this guy should be in charge of procurement?

I do

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


on Nov 7, 2017

Sure but lasers kind of have the limit of horizon and a curvature of Earth. You can't shoot a laser beam around the corner now could you?...

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? "

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


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?

on Oct 22, 2017

Coverage vs. arrival times. If you are fighting a COIN war, you can have 20 insurgent attacks in a day. Even an hour.

If you have a hot war with a peer enemy, you are generally only going to have threats to the strike aircraft, their tanking/ISR/BMC3 support missions and maybe, if you're dumb enough to hang them out there, their basing modes.

This is the difference between being on the offense and trying to win an 'occupational' (in the pit, with the gators) defensive war. You get to choose when and what assets are placed at risk, rather than having to 'defend everywhere and thus nowhere well'.

But this doesnt necessarily mean that you have to be manned-airpower centric to do it.

Indeed, the United States must be able to fight both war types even though, traditionally, you fight 7 OOTW/CO/LIC fights for every 1 MTW/MRC. We have never faced a nuclear capable Super Power in an MTW as General War and for that reason alone, the provision of stealth, which has a 10,000lb weight penalty inherent to the odd structural shapes, enclosed weapons bay volumes, RAM etc. (a single, 5 gallon, can of SWAM paint is so heavy it takes too men to lift it) is a '14% of all fights' ridiculous capability.

Yet you still need it for that one in seven condition.

Why? Because it lets you drop all the other weight in penaids (ARM+AAM+SPJ+EXCM+_gas_) needed to get there.

And the easiest way to pay for multi-spectrum (EO + Long Wave) VLO is to take the /other/ needless 10,000lbs out of the jet. Which is to say the pilot habitation module and associated control feeds, AI radar, 9G structural load paths, 300lb ejection seat plus _gas_ (as canopy drag) deemed essential for a 'manned anything' to protect itself.

This is a given in any laser threat environment as the 250KW SSL which will explode a fuel tank at 10-15km will blow torch a pilots retina at 20. Helmet/Canopy coatings or no.

Now, let's talk about delivery bus vs. munition times of flight. We not have missiles (Netfires, SPIKE-ER, Griffin) which can range out to 20km or so, roughly the LOS horizon, _From A Pickup Truck_. So why are you waiting 20 minutes from the first boom, for CAS to plane cavalry, coming over the hill?

You do realize that things like the 2006 Rocket War are pointing the way towards a day where hybrid threats are delivering GPS guided rockets and remote control ATGW firing posts engage several tanks at a time 'with sources unknown' industrial suppliers using universal CATIA software to make it all work, right?

When your guerilla starts fighting with first world tech, the nature of hybrid warfare IS high intensity. Because you cannot create a dividing line that defines who has the supplies of these weapons, you have to start thinking about defending successfully, against them with even higher tech. The first definition of which is: PREEMPTION. I see your guy sitting out there, 100m away from his Kornet launcher, 2.5km from the road I'm on, 20km before I'm in range. And I kill him with a minute missile off my truck because... Anything longer and that first IED only signals the start of my people being knocked off, one vehicle at a time, with single shot kill ATGW. While they are trapped in a head-and-tail convoy condition on a narrow road.

It used to be that aircraft carried the literal weight of the war so that ground forces didn't have to. You had hugely expensive and very heavy PGMs, the smallest of which was a 680lb, 21,000 dollar, GBU-12 that would level most 2-story buildings.

Now, it is cheaper to have a 50-100lb PGM on the truck (AFV, whatever) to get instant on-target fires, looking through a seeker that is FO tethered to the man who knows where the fire is generally coming from (GFAS/Boomerang etc.) but can't see it because of a masking defilade or simple range.

In this for-instance, you want an airborne asset for ONE reason and that is to push eyes over that ridgeline where the recoilless rifle or mortar or missile launcher is, without having to expend 50,000 dollars worth of X-Wing as 30 minutes of loiter, doing it.

Endurance matters when the threat does their prep for an ambush 10-24hrs before you get there. It matters even more when they successfully avoid this early sweep of routes and popup right in your shorts.

And an unarmed or lightly armed UAV that can push 20 shots out of a VLS on a truck is BETTER (cheaper, more numerous, covering more patrol teams) than an F-16 which has maybe 4-6hrs of NTISR time with a pair of PGM under each wing while costing 20,000 dollars per flight hour compared to about 900 for a Predator and 3,600 for a Reaper.

Now, how does this compare with the REAL High Intensity, emergency reactive condition? Something like DPRK or China vs. Taiwan or (heaven help us) Israel vs. Iran?

The same UAV which targets for 20hrs over a ground force at 200nm radius can also target for 10hrs at 2,000nm. If it has an ADVENT/AVET type engine instead of a Rotax 914 or TPE-331.

How? First, unlike a Predator (112 knots) or Reaper (270 knots) it doesn't spend half it's airtime getting there. Sans 'fighter features', it can literally pull a Concorde with _sustained_ supercruise to radius X.

Then it can use a combination of range gated TV and differential GPS as A-AAR (JPALS, air to air) to dock with a buddy pod panty and suck down 5-10,000lbs of fuel before motoring along into the mission area at 100-200 knots, with very little acoustic or thermal wake signature.

Look at the F112 engine on the AGM-129 ACM. A 1980s design, it was capable of putting out roughly 1,000lbf in a 99lb installation weight. And it had a TSFC around .25pph with ordinary fuel and .15pph with heavy fuel (boron additive). This gave a missile which weighed around 3,000lbs a range of 1,700nm.

Compare this to the bloody dragster engine on the F-35 with a TSFC of .889pph for a thrust of 43,000lbf. Whose only utility is in the zero-speed end of the STOVL range where high residual torque is needed to spin up the SDLF.

Split the difference with a TSFC (using two stream, cool core) of around .43, which is bizjet level, on a 5-15-20,000lbf multicylce engine and now your targeting UAV can do the 10hr mission @ 2,000nm with the same fuel that it takes an F-35 19,000lbs to fly 900nm, in and out on.

Why is this important? Many reasons. I'll give you three.

The hairier things get with standoff weapons targeted by OTH-B radar or sonar lines or buoys (or overhead, while it lasts) the less close you want to come to any coast. With robotics, things get even worse because now your SSK looks like an ASDV and it's a kamikaze.

If it doesn't have to come back and can take BLOS offboard targeting updates, the exclusion area that you have to cover becomes literally, twice as large. You can be attacked /from the seaward side/, while 500nm off the coast. Essentially making your Force Protection ASW mission all but impossible as the easiest way to beat back enemy defenses is speed and numbers, meaning these systems will hunt in packs.

Nukes Without Radiofuel.
We know it's possible. The energetics on modern chain explosives can generate the heat and pressure to cause LD6 to fuse. Throw in isomers like SPH/MSH and things get wicked. People worry about city killers. I worry about a 2 block radius with minimal, if any, radiation. Someone pops a 100KT over a city and their country is DONE.

They have just written themselves out of history.

Because that level of fireworks requires a big bus vehicle and we will see it coming, tag it and quite possibly bag it, especially if the launch platform is military radionucleide trace what region of the world the fuel came from.

But if they set off a dozen .5KT yields on key infrastructure elements of our cities (nuke plants would be a disaster, but so would ordinary ones, fuel refineries, water treatment and the SPR) and suddenly 'general war' gets expensive. And you aren't sure where they came from because they could be brought in by backpack using faces that are not in any database.

Now suppose that the targets are military vessels or SPOD/APODs. How close do you have to come to make a mission or mobility vs. hull kill happen?

Doubling Down Is Dumb.
Do you want to fight China or Russia to even a theater level decision? I don't. Because their last face saving measure is going to be The Big Red Button. And particularly if they go for preemption to A2AD deny your entry, they may OWN whatever ally you are coming to help, long before you can put the force protection together needed to evict them.

Massing forces in a nuclear environment is a damn fool way to double down on commitment.

Because now, BOTH of you have major doggage in the fight. Your military may, in fact, be more important than the strategic objectives you're fighting for amd so you cannot just take a major combatant loss without showing the threat that: "Hey, we're crippled but just so nobody thinks we're out of teeth, dodge this."

It's the Rome vs. Persia model with the rise of Mohammed just around the corner.

Now, you need to be able to fight the tactical battle, more reactively, under emergent conditions, without having to FIRST fight the suppression of defenses, break-in, fight to create an operational exclusion zone 'bubble' for conventional air to transition to CAS/OBAS/INT.

At the same time, you need to be able to ECONOMICALLY hostage assets of your enemy, outside the combatant theater, which you can effectively take out as a gradiated degree of pain that doesn't require you to wipe out every last military asset they have.

i.e. I control which kind of pain you feel and if you think I am going to hit you where you're ready, think again. Box to the face. Stomp on the toe.

A UAV that can get in, stand off, take pictures and _target for submarine launched aeroballistic weapons_ meets all these criteria. Because the unmanned asset doesn't have a pilot fatigue modifier. As long as the engine oil holds out, you can drag it from Midway or Hawaii if you have to. And it can go deep, even in a laser/hunting weapon centric GBAD condition, because at 2 million per 10,000lbs, it's cheap. And it is cost:weight controlled because it doesn't have to have all the things a fighter does in the way of structural and flight control redundances, escape systems and air to air specific targeting/fire control.

What then becomes important is that the kill vehicles have a real edge.

At Mach 3 and 80,000ft, a Hoplite missile will likely loft out to 300nm in about 10 minutes. A manned jet is going to get there in about an hour.

At Mach 7-10 and 200,000 feet, an HSSW is a going to go 900nm in about 13 minutes. It's going to take a Tomahawk about 2.5hrs to get there and a fighter (if it can) around 3.5.

This reactivity allows an Ohio followon to perform 'CAS' for Taiwanese Marines, desperately trying to keep their wayward continental relatives, from reunification via beachhead assault.

It protects said SSGN (with 400 shots onboard) from BASMs and UUVs and assorted other nonsense with sheer standoff (water = cubed).

And it theoretically allows said submarine to also hold at risk, significant assets on the coast, without any further Bastioning or escorts. Like Hong Kong and Shanghai, China's big maritime trading ports.

All at minimal risk to the boat.

Just as importantly, those ballistic trajectories take the missiles COMPLETELY outside the engagement capabilities of any weapons system other than the THAAD (American) and 40N6 (S-400 'big' missile).

Since these cost roughly ten million per shot, if you can keep costs on the offensive weapon down around 2-4 million dollars, you can literally outsaturate the enemy ability to respond at a manufacturing base level. Even lasers will have a very hard time because they will only be in range at the terminal end.

And of course, even at four million, you are talking roughly 20-25 missiles per F-35 you don't purchase as an anachronistic fools paradise of IPad downloadable app 'pilot toy' features. None of which does diddly dip to make the weapons system more effective.

Point Being: You push everything you can into the targeting platform to protect it (signatures) and get it to a point where it can usefully spot targets (range + transit cruise = engines).

And then you take the fires and make their delivery system directly equate to the threat (subs have 900ft renewable bunker roofs over them) and the reaction time (a guerilla will be gone in 10 minutes but not in 90 seconds) required to get hits on critical targets that they enemy cannot defend.

Which takes the midcourse bus (subsonic airframe, manned pilot endurance) out of the picture entirely. We must get past the White Scarf mentality of war. It's expensive, it's ineffective and it's damned dangerous for the kinds of wars we typically fight and the kinds of wars we don't want to but have to prep for anyway.

We're only one idiot away from a nuclear war over the Korean Peninsula or Ukraine. Having an effective /warfighter/ is about making sure we can win those kinds of scenarios without going all in, double down, on a military option that is ineffective, self-hazarding and such a large percentage of our national image that losing it becomes, not just a theater operational but strategic risk.

Taken together, this approach begs the question: If there is nothing to escort, why do you need a penetrating counter air fighter?

on Feb 18, 2017

None of you mention what is most obvious. Other worldly aircraft in the works. Maybe our politicians are getting in the way of finishing such projects.

on Mar 31, 2017

We should be seriously looking at a 20 G capable fighter. That cannot be done with a man inside.

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