Despite the completion in recent years of at least two analyses of alternatives indicating that it’s time to start developing something to follow the F-22—which will start retiring in the 2030s—there’s no program of record yet to do it. “We don’t know what it looks like yet,” Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said in an interview with Air Force Magazine last week. “I don’t know if it’s an airplane, or a system of things, or a cyber capability, or if it’s space-based. I have no idea. But we need to be thinking about that now.” Welsh said top Air Force leaders have been reluctant to settle on a platform because it may not be the appropriate approach. He’s worried the service will get “tied in a knot” if it starts talking about sixth-generation fighters when it’s still in the early stages of fielding the fifth-generation F-35. It’s not yet time to spend “billions” on the concept, he said, at least not until he gets answers to: “what is it, really, and how much of it do you need?” Maj. Gen. James Martin, USAF budget director, said last week the funds for sixth gen are “scattered around” the service’s various science and technology and research and development accounts, but are not yet focused on a single effort.
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.