Pacific Operations Force Fighter Rethink

Credit: U.S. Air Force

ORLANDO, Florida—As options for an F-22 replacement after 2030 continue to be analyzed, the distance challenges imposed by operations in the Pacific theater are driving the U.S. Air Force to consider redefining the traditional conception of a fighter, the head of Air Combat Command said on Feb. 27.

The traditional design requirements for a fighter’s range and payload still work in a European conflict scenario, but not in an air war over the vast Pacific, said Gen. James Holmes, speaking to reporters at the Air Warfare Symposium here. 

A traditional fighter is “not as effective a solution in the Pacific, because of the great distances,” Holmes said.

Holmes met last week with Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, to discuss requirements for Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD). The program originally was launched to replace the F-22 after 2030 with a sixth-generation fighter, but the requirements have evolved. 

“So as you look at NGAD and you look at the following programs, I wouldn’t expect it to produce things that necessarily look like a traditional fighter or in that same kind of swap between range and payload and distance that we’ve done in a traditional fighter,” Holmes said. 

“What we’re concerned about at Air Combat Command is not necessarily whether it’ll be a manned fighter but how are we going to provide the capabilities that the joint force depends on us to do,” he said.

Steve Trimble

Steve covers military aviation, missiles and space for the Aviation Week Network, based in Washington DC.