Don’t Call it “Sixth Gen”

There’s probably a new fighter-like airplane in the Air Force’s future, but it won’t be the sole answer to achieving air superiority, senior service planners said Thursday. Speaking at an AFA-sponsored, Air Force breakfast in Arlington, Va., Lt. Gen. Mike Holmes, USAF’s strategic planner, revealed that a year-long “Air Superiority 2030” study concluded that a heavily networked and space-dependent “system of systems” approach is the way to go to keep ahead of adversaries who will soon have all the tricks and technologies USAF has now. The key element probably won’t be a successor to the F-22, though. In fact, Holmes and Col. Alex Grynkewich, who headed the study, said they discourage use of the term “sixth generation” to describe the new aircraft, lest people think of it as a mere successor to existing systems. It will be one element in a broader system that will feature cheap, quasi-disposable drones built and fielded in large numbers; enhancements of today’s “roll-back” and standoff capabilities aimed at penetrating heavily defended airspace; space systems delivering connectivity, navigation, and targeting; and rapid “prioritized technology insertion” into all existing systems. Grynkewich said the study indicated long-range and higher payloads will be key for a new platform. While something like the new B-21 bomber will be one alternative looked at for air superiority, he said “speed and agility” were found to “still have value” in air combat of the 2030s and beyond.