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The Replacement’s Replacement?

December 30th, 2013 - 7:42 am

FA-XX

My first reaction to that headline can be best summed up as, “Wait — what?

The longer version goes like this. I thought the F-35C was supposed to replace the Navy’s air fleet of Hornets and Super Hornets. And that since we were unlikely to ever buy enough pricy F-35Cs to do the job, that the Navy would turn to drones — a nice compliment to the increased automation on board the new ships we also won’t buy enough of. So what’s this artist’s rendering of a manned stealth fighter?

From the report:

The new aircraft and its associated “family of systems” would be expected to become operational around 2035.

“We’re doing study work right now to neck down what it is that we’re going to spend our money on in the analysis of alternatives,” Rear Adm. Mike Manazir told USNI News on Dec. 20.
“But at the beginning of fiscal year ’15, we will start that analysis of alternatives, which will then start the acquisition process to get an airplane in 2030.”

The Navy does not yet know what kind of aircraft the F/A-XX will be, but the service is working on defining exactly what capabilities it will need when the Super Hornet fleet starts to exhaust their 9,000-hour airframe lives around 2035.

“Right now our effort is take the F/A-18E/F off and list everything you lose,” Manazir said. “Now, how do you service that?”

2035? It’ll be a drone.

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All Comments   (12)
All Comments   (12)
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While our technology is awesome our enemies fear the American fighting man, not his hardware. It's the "man in the box" theory; a hyper-advance jet fighter in the hands of a buffoon makes the same smoking hole when bagged that a low-tech MiG does, and the low-tech MiG in the hands of a master will ruin your day, every day.

Drones also don't have that "hair on the back of your neck" feeling that tells you that what you're about to blow up MIGHT not be the right target. Sitting in a trailer in Florida blowing stuff up in Yemen doesn't let you "feel" the battle-space....you have to BE there.

If one invests all his eggs in the basket of unmanned drones, the winner of the battle is the guy that owns the electromagnetic spectrum.......
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
Looks like it's just at the conceptual stage right now, which is where you put in all your whizz-bang ideas, of which maybe 10% make it to prototype status.

BTW, those engines there, don't they look sort of scram-jetish?
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
Ramjets only work as part of a high bypass turbojet design (e.g. the SR-71), and that design only works with very clever inlet management, and all of that is only necessary if you want to go over Mach 2.5 for prolonged periods of time-- which isn't necessary or even desirable in a carrier-based aircraft.

Plus, that body design would come apart under Mach 3.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
That new airplane will never leave the sensitivity-training-environmental-impact-statement phase of work.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
It depends largely on who'll be controlling the purse strings for the next few decades.

It'll be somewhere between an endless string of upgrade packages for the 18, assuming the status quo, or a next gen F/A aircraft being purchased in large numbers, assuming some dirtball country shoots a few 18s down. It makes a lot of sense for this to be the F-35 after all.

I rather doubt the Navy is stupid enough to throw away the force projection of the aircraft carrier by going to drones. If they are, expect that to bite us, hard.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
I expect the Navy to fly drones off of carrier decks. The X-47B last summer made the first unmanned carrier landing.

What will come to bite us in the ass is our shrinking carrier fleet. 12, to 11, to 10, to 9 --and IIRC, we're behind even on a 9-carrier fleet as Ford production isn't fast enough to account for Nimitz retirements.

It's amazing (cough, cough) that even as defense continues to shrink as a percentage of GDP, we still can't manage to scrape up enough money for 300-ship Navy or even just 200 air superiority fighters.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
There's still a statutory requirement for a 10-carrier fleet, but there's a waiver to allow retiring Enterprise before the Ford is commissioned. The Ford has been experiencing the normal first-in-class problems and the 'Prize needed to be put to pasture.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
If we cover our carriers with UAVs, they lose a quite a lot of their effectiveness from day one.

Situational awareness utterly sucks with UAVs, and no matter how advanced they get, all a bad guy nation needs to invest in is reasonably powerful jamming technology in a reasonably fortified installation, and all of those UAVs are now so much AA fodder.

We lose carrier force projection and insta-air-superiority, and we're either using nukes or going home.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
Between things like frequency-hopping and CDMA jamming isn't nearly as easy as you'd think. And it would be trivial to detect outside its effective range. Expect a drone fleet to be supported by a long-range anti-radiation missile. After all, you don't need to destroy the signal generators, just the antennae.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
I can think of a number of methods to get around the various anti-radiation solutions. FWIW I do have a reasonable amount of experience with such things.

And that's beside the fact that UAVs have crap battlefield effectiveness in a F/A role. Even if we build a supersonic F/A UAV that is hard to kill and hard to see, you're still stuck with the telepresence issues that are always going to be issues. They're useful for being small, hard to "see", and popping a target or two covertly. That's about it.

If I were a bad guy country with a reasonable amount of money to throw at electronic warfare, I'd be jumping for joy over a US shift to UAVs.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
Physics still dictates that your ECM will be observable long outside the range at which it is effective. You could keep your emitters off until the enemy is in jamming range, but coding "If in Indian country and you lose contact with Mother, launch a HARM at the strongest EM emitter" wouldn't be too terribly hard to code. Which puts you in the position of either turning off your emitters or having your antennae blown up.

And nobody is expecting the US to be recreating Top Gun from Nellis. The drones would be under relatively local control, either from the launching ship or, IMO more likely, from an airborne controller a few hundred nm behind the drones, which would be "small, hard to 'see', and popping a target or two covertly"
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
I see the future air wings having a couple squadrons of 18s or 35s. But they will have mostly MQ-47C Pegasus drones. The things are relatively cheep, have a huge range and are expendable.

Perhaps I watch too much SciFi but I agree w/ you, Lion. Drones'll be great right up until some clever enemy figures out how to neutralize all the drones by hitting a key control point. Sure, the AI on the planes will will just turn around a go home when communication is lost. But that counts as a mission kill.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
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