A Long Wait for Sixth Gen

A sixth-generation fighter would appropriately enter the force circa 2045, said Rob Weiss, head of Lockheed Martin’s “Skunk Works” advanced projects division. Speaking with reporters at a company media event Tuesday, Weiss said Skunk Works has studied next-generation air dominance “for many years,” and concludes that, for now, the best thing for the US to do to retain control of the air is to “increase the number of fifth-gen fighters” in the force. Exhaustive “threat analysis and operational analysis” shows that “buying out” the planned inventory of F-35s should be the US military’s first air superiority priority, with “accelerated modernization” of the F-35 and F-22 as the second most important step in staying ahead of nascent adversary fifth-gen fighters, said Weiss. Lockheed builds the F-35 and built the F-22 as well. The third priority would be “investing in game-changing technology” for a sixth-gen fighter, which Weiss said isn’t ready for a program of record yet. The new airplane—and it would be an airplane, rather than an assortment of other technologies, Weiss said—“needs to be something very different” than the fifth-gen fighters. “We have a pretty good idea of what it will be,” he said, but he declined to discuss it because of classification. The sixth-gen jet would have advanced propulsion and sensors, but likely wouldn’t be hypersonic, he allowed, and would probably not enter service “for 30 or 40 years,” with a program not even getting launched for another decade or so. USAF leaders are slated to discuss the results of year-long Air Dominance 2030 studies this month.