Time for Air Dominance

The Air Force’s forecast that the F-22 will last into the 2040s helps explain why the service seems in no rush to launch a sixth-generation fighter program. Reporters have been peppering the Air Force and DOD leadership with queries as to why there’s no F-22 replacement in the budget, since it took 20 years to develop the Raptor from drawing board to initial operating capability, and the F-22 was thought to be retiring in about 2035. The Pentagon and USAF leaders have responded that they are undertaking an “Air Dominance 2030” study that will analyze such technologies as hypersonics and directed energy to determine what mix of attributes will give the US air superiority/air dominance 15 years hence. Apparently, the clock will not run out on the Raptor before its replacement capability is in hand. Asked about a sixth-generation fighter at the AFA Air Warfare Symposium in February, Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said, “I don’t know what it looks like,” and “it may not be a single platform,” but a family of systems, not unlike the service’s concept for long-range strike.