The F-22 Raptor's Replacement Is Starting to Take Shape
"Penetrating Counter Air" will be stealthier, longer ranged and carry new, deadly missiles.
The U.S. Air Force is finalizing technology requirements for a new fighter jet to enter service sometime in the 2030s. Known as "Penetrating Counter Air," the new fighter will replace the F-22 Raptor and maintain American air superiority in future conflicts. The sixth=generation fighter will incorporate a number of new technologies that for now exist only on the drawing board.
Citing the existence of advanced Russian weapons such as the S-400 air defense missile system and the Su-57 (formerly PAK-FA) fighter, Air Combat Command commander General Mike Holmes told Aviation Week & Space Technology that while the F-22 and F-35 will continue to be improved, "Eventually you will run into a limit in your ability to improve those platforms, and so we need to have something else ready."
The U.S. hasn't designed a clean-sheet fighter in twenty years, and Penetrating Counter Air (PCA) will differ from the F-22 and F-35 in some ways to deal with new strategic realities. For one thing, PCA will emphasize range, particularly in order to fly escort missions for B-2 and B-21 bombers over Russia and against China in the Asia-Pacific. These sort of missions were unthinkable just five years ago.
The problem is, an efficient engine that sips fuel is a different beast from a high-performance engine meant to give fighters an edge in air-to-air combat. The Air Force hopes for the best of both worlds with so-called "three-stream propulsion," which uses a third air stream to make the engine more efficient or provide more thrust.
PCA will also be stealthy, and likely lose vertical tail fins that are standard on all aircraft, from the P-51 Mustang to the F-22 Raptor. Vertical tail fins are major impediments to achieving durable stealth against various types of radars, and were first ditched with the B-2 Spirit bomber. (In fact, there will probably never be a U.S. combat aircraft built with a vertical tail fin ever again, unless stealth technology was so compromised it became irrelevant.)
Aviation Week also reports that the USAF is seeking funding for a new "Air Dominance Air-to-Air Weapon" likely to replace the AIM-120 AMRAAM medium-range air-to-air missile. AMRAAM is a thirty year old missile and is being eclipsed by other designs, including Japan's AAM-4B and the UK's Meteor missile.
The Air Force has requested $294.7 million in fiscal 2018 to continue studying PCA and nailing down specifications.
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Aug 23, 2017
Photo: U.S. Air Force Boeing FX (Photo by North Korean Air Force)