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  • What to Expect From Sixth Gen Combat Aircraft
    Posted by David A. Fulghum 1:17 PM on Apr 09, 2010

    For Sixth-Generation warplanes, stealthy data connectivity is going to be as important as stealthy aircraft. A low-observable aircraft – operating inside the enemy’s ring of anti-aircraft defense – must be able to transmit data to standoff forces without giving away its position.

    “Making sure you have connectivity is key, says Maj. Gen. Tom Andersen, Air Combat command’s director of requirements. “If you are stealthy -- and within a denied or anti-access area -- you don’t want to emit energy that will [give away your location]. So we have to concentrate on low probability of intercept or detection [LPI, LPD] type wave forms. Then we have to get it out of that environment so that it can help the follow on forces and support jammers like the non-stealthy Growler. That’s going to be a challenge.”

    Improved fifth- and new sixth-generation manned and unmanned aircraft also are being planned to carry wide-area optical and electronic surveillance, explosive and non-explosive weapons and offer an intricate view of the surrounding networks that might affect them.

    Also part of the advanced fight formula will be communications, including command and control, that can function even when under network attack.

    “We’ve stood up a Sixth Gen Fighter office here, and we’re starting to figure out what those attributes should be,” Andersen says. “Survivability will be huge, so how do you do that – with speed, stealth or some combination? Affordability is critical because $500 million per air vehicle doesn’t do much good [in a tough budget environment].

    “If we start right now, 2030 is about the time you get a sixth gen fighter on the line,” Andersen say. “That’s about the time all the F-15s, F-15Es, F-16s and A-10s are programmed to be out of the inventory. At that point all you have is the F-35. I think [Sixth Gen] will have to be capable being [optionally] manned. The cost margin between manned and unmanned is now only about 3-5% delta. We have to be prepared to go either way.”

    The new designs will undoubtedly be stealthy for penetrating enemy air defenses. And as long as they are close to key targets, “you would hate not to have an ISR capability,” Andersen say. Moreover, these aircraft need to be linked so they always know where they are in reference to each other and to any enemy threat all the time.

    The advanced architecture for connectivity is called the Joint Aerial Layered Network (JLAN). It creates a mosaic for the battlefield with space, airborne and surface layers. And within those layers, the denied and anti-access areas are detailed along with where everybody else can operate.

    The equipment on these new aircraft designs will also be innovative. It will, for example, exploit new segments of the electromagnetic spectrum. Also increasingly important will be a translator that transforms an LPI signal to a waveform that can be widely distributed by Link 16. That would avoid compromising stealth and also generate digital information that everyone can immediately use.

    Electronic attack, network invasion and generation of high power microwave pulses as weapons will also be part of the formula.

    “We’re working the CHAMP joint project demonstration which is a high power microwave [device] in a cruise missiles [at Kirtland],” says Brig. Gen. Dave Goldfein, ACC’s director of air and space operations (A3). “We’re probably about three years from where we will have to transition it from the [joint demonstration program].”

    Tags: ar99, 6th Gen aircraft, stealth, LPI, UAVs, RPAs

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