Defining Sixth-Generation Fighters

The Air Force is working on a capability to succeed the F-22, but it is still defining what it might be. Speaking during an AFA-sponsored, Air Force breakfast event in Arlington, Va., ACC chief Gen. Mike Hostage said he “told the people working on it, ‘don’t think in terms of a platform.’” In other words, the next fighter might not be an airplane, but a set of technologies that could be stand-alone or mounted on existing aircraft. Hostage said “it’s okay with me” if the next air superiority system is not a manned fighter. “It will happen someday” that a ground-based operator will have all the situation awareness needed to fly a fighter remotely, he said. Directed-energy weapons are among the attributes a sixth-gen system is likely to have, particularly because they offer a nearly unlimited magazine of shots, he noted. Hostage said his only frustration with the F-22—besides the small size of the fleet—is that while it can penetrate deeply into denied airspace, “it can only kill eight bad guys” when it gets there. Hostage hinted at “amazing” technologies that might be back-fitted on legacy, fourth-gen aircraft that could make them relevant for decades, but he declined to name them. He wants to make it costly for an enemy to defend against offensive capabilities “that are cheap to us.”