The Air Force is hoping its new approach to air superiority—one of a system of systems rather than a “silver bullet,” all-in-one platform—will create a new capability as early as 2025, Lt. Gen. Mike Holmes, USAF’s top strategic planner, said at an AFA–sponsored, Air Force breakfast on Thursday. That year is a “wildly aspirational” goal, he said, and would depend on a successful “campaign” of experimentation and prototyping, followed by a green light from USAF and Pentagon leaders, and realization of a hoped-for acceleration of the acquisition process. He explained that USAF consciously turned away from couching the study as an F-22 replacement scheme, knowing that a “sixth gen fighter,” or F-X program, would skew toward a “generational leap” that would take 20-30 years to achieve and wind up being too expensive and way too late to need. “What we’re trying to do is solve this problem faster than that by looking across the range of options, and building what we’re able to build, instead of waiting for that generational leap,” Holmes said. He said the Air Force will host a pair of industry day meetings within a few weeks to pulse industry on its ideas for delivering realistic capability on the desired schedule. Air Superiority study leader Col. Alex Grynkewich said a plan will be jelled by “the end of May” and make its way into “planning choices,” which will be the 2019 Program Objective Memoranda. The Air Force has admitted that the period 2023-2025 will be especially challenging, because it’s hoping to go operational with a new trainer, a JSTARS replacement, the B-21 bomber, and some other big-ticket programs during that window, even as it peaks production of F-35 fighters and KC-46 tankers.
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.