The categorization of fighter jets into various generations has long been a topic of debate. Following is the most agreed upon classification:
- Generation 1 : Jet propulsion (F-80, German Me 262)
- Generation 2 : Swept wings; range-only radar; infrared missiles (F-86, MiG-15)
- Generation 3 : Supersonic speed; pulse radar; able to shoot at targets beyond visual range (“Century Series” fighters such as F-105; F-4; MiG-17; MiG-21).
- Generation 4 : Pulse-doppler radar; high manoeuvrability; look-down, shoot-down missiles (F-15, F-16, Mirage 2000, MiG-29).
- Generation 4+ : High agility; sensor fusion; reduced signatures (Eurofighter Typhoon, Su-30, advanced versions of F-16 and F/A-18, Rafale).
- Generation 4++ : Active electronically scanned arrays; continued reduced signatures or some “active” (waveform cancelling) stealth; some supercruise (Su-35, F-15SE)
- Generation 5 : All-aspect stealth with internal weapons, extreme agility, full-sensor fusion, integrated avionics, some or full supercruise (F-22, F-35)
- Generation 6 : Conceptual at this point although touted to be more advanced than generation 5 that are currently in service and development. (SOURCE: airforcemag)
If sources are to be believed, the US has already moved a step forward in what we might see as the world’s first sixth-gen fighter jet. The fifth-gen fighter jet program is the current best, with 2 from the US and 1 from China and Russia respectively.
Reportedly, the Air Force’s sixth-generation fighter has officially entered development- news confirmed by the Air Force’s top official on June 1.
We have now started an engineering, manufacturing and development program to do the development aircraft that we’ll take into production. We think we’ll have the capability by the end of the decadeAir Force Secretary Frank Kendall said during an event at the Heritage Foundation
The United States Air Force (USAF) commissioned the Next Generation Air Dominance program (NGAD) initiative to develop the world’s first sixth-generation stealth fighter and is scheduled to replace the ageing F-22s. The F-22 Raptor was the world’s first fifth-generation fighter craft to be put into service.
Although planned upgrades will keep the F-22s flying for more than a decade, the NGAD will likely unveil a host of capabilities, never before seen in a fighter aircraft.
Apparently, the NGAD has progressed beyond the prototype stage and has entered the development stage.
The U.S. Air Force basically had an X-plane program, which was designed to reduce the risk in some of the key technologies that we would need for a production program. Previously the Air Force has done a quick demo, and then we have to start an EMD or development program and wait several more years because we didn’t start the development functionKendall explained
What could be the possible features of the next-generation fighter craft?
Building on the features of its predecessor, Gen 6 could be far stealthier, it may be capable of “wing-morphing”- which in other words refers to the capability of wings to alter shape mid-air, in-flight retunable engines for a far more efficient supersonic or subsonic cruise, well, the options are galore.
The Adaptive Engine Transition Program (AETP), unaffordable for the F-35s as some belief, could also be a part of the Generation 6 aircraft.
Directed energy weapons (DEW), or high-powered microwaves and lasers could be used to counter incoming missiles or as offensive weapons themselves.
Directed energy weapons could play a big role in deciding how agile a sixth generation fighter would have to be. “Speed of light” weapons could “negate” the importance of “the maneuverability we see in today’s fashionable fighters.” There won’t be time to maneuver away from a directed energy attackPaul K. Meyer, vice president and general manager of Northrop Grumman’s Advanced Programs and Technology Division
Darryl W. Davis, president of Boeing’s advanced systems division, mentioned that vast amounts of data would be available to the pilot, who may or may not be on board the aircraft, and this is where Fiber optics could play a significant role.
You could have fewer wires. You’re on a multiplexed, fiber-optic bus … that connects all the systems, and because you can do things at different wavelengths of light, you can move lots of data around airplanes much faster, with much less weight in terms of … wire bundlesDavis
Although sceptical about the availability and timely implementation, hypersonics has always been attributed as a feature of Gen 6 fighter crafts.
It entails a whole new range of materials development, due to … sensors, fuzes, apertures, etc. all of which must operate in that intense heat environment at … Mach 5-plusMeyer
The NGAD is also being touted as a ‘family of systems’ that could see a lot of unmanned aircraft equipped with a wide variety of sensors and payloads being deployed alongside the manned planes.
The Air Force had already built and flown a full-scale flight demonstrator in the real world. The plane is still years away from full production, but has created ripples in the defence industry across the globeAssistant Secretary of the Air Force -Will Roper
According to Richard Aboulafia- an aerospace analyst with AeroDynamic Advisory, Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman are all possible contenders in building the next generation fighter although Northrop’s current project on producing the B-21 bomber makes it an unlikely choice to lead the project.
Due to the sensitive nature of the project, much about NGAD remains classified to the general public.
COVER: Popular Mechanics