The US Air Force is embarking on months of research into the development of an affordable, lightweight fighter that will replace hundreds of Cold War-era F-16s and complement a small fleet of sophisticated but expensive and unreliable stealth fighters. The result should be a combination of the expensive F-22 and F-35 “fifth generation” and inexpensive aircraft “generation 5”.
The fifth generation of fighters proved to be expensive even for the United States. The fifth-generation F-35 fighter, which was supposed to replace almost the entire US strike aircraft fleet, does not fit into the capabilities of the American air force. The desire to create a universal, cheap and massive stealth aircraft has already been officially recognized as impossible. This was stated by the commander of the US Air Force, Charles Brown, in a conversation with reporters, compared the F-35 with a sports car, which few people drive every day.
The F-35 is a Ferrari, Air Force Commander Charles Brown told reporters last Wednesday. “You don’t drive a Ferrari to work every day, you only drive it on Sundays. This is our “high-level fighter”, we want to make sure that we don’t use all of this to fight at a low level. ”
When asked directly whether the Pentagon is really considering orders for new F-16s as an alternative to the F-35s, Charles Brown gave a terrific response: “I doubt we will need upgraded F-16s. If we are able to create something new – cheaper and more perfect, why not? You don’t have to choose from what we have now. ”
As Charles Brown emphasized, the US Air Force has already conducted a detailed threat analysis and concluded that it is necessary to create a new aircraft.
Brown explained that a 17-ton F-16 without stealth is too difficult to upgrade with the latest software. Instead of ordering fresh F-16s, the Air Force should initiate a “clean design” for a new budget-class fighter, he said.
Brown’s comments are a tacit admission that the F-35 failed. In accordance with the idea of the 1990s, the program was to produce thousands of fighters to replace almost all existing tactical combat aircraft in service with the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.
Only the Air Force wanted about 1,800 F-35s to replace the outdated F-16s and A-10s and make up the low-to-high-end fighter’s lower limit, with 180 twin-engined F-22s making the upper limit.
The F-35 fighter is called the “flying computer” because of its myriad new adaptations, which include a combination of artificial intelligence-like sensors, 360-degree camera views, improved communications, a threat intelligence database and highly sophisticated computerized logistics systems. “At the same time, cyberattacks are more likely to shoot down F-35s than missiles.
“We need a completely new fighter of the 4+ generation, or 5. In terms of combat potential, it should be between the aircraft built in the late 1970s and the modern stealth F-35 and F-22,” the US Air Force commander said. Adding that it won’t take too long to create it.
In particular, he cited the example of the T-7A Red Hawk and the new secret Next Generation Air Dominance aircraft, which were developed using modern computer technology in record time. Note that a wave of criticism immediately arose in the United States: instead of the unsuccessful F-35, the development of which cost $ 55 billion, and having upgraded F-16s at the Pentagon, they started talking about the costs of developing a new aircraft without any guarantee of success.
Created in the 2000s, the F-35 is the result of a concept of total technological superiority, which in real life is too expensive for everyday use. The fact is that one hour of flight of this aircraft costs 28-36 thousand dollars and one hour of flight of the F-16 – from 8 to 22 thousand.
However, all recent US Air Force combat operations have shown that “driving” the F-35 for bombing strikes is not more effective than the same F-16, not to mention the A-10, but much more expensive.
Thus, it is quite possible that the Pentagon, for the tasks of the present and near future, intends to quickly create a cheap-to-operate aircraft, using already proven technologies.
Of course, after vague statements about the 4+ / 5 generation aircraft, it is quite difficult to draw conclusions about how the future aircraft will look like. But, most likely, it should be something close to the F / A-18E / F Super Hornet, which, when upgraded, received stealth, but not by cutting other aircraft capabilities.
For example, the redesign of the air intakes, new landing gear doors and the shape of the technological panels, as well as the use of radio-transparent materials in the most critical months, made it possible to reduce the effective dispersion area in the front hemisphere by several times, compared to a conventional fourth-generation fighter.
At the same time, this aircraft has a rather low cost of a flight hour – in the range of 10-12 thousand dollars. And its effectiveness is based on an ultra-wide arsenal of weapons, which may soon be supplied with light hypersonic missiles.
And it is worth remembering that the United States has a “trump card up its sleeve” – work on a sixth generation fighter called Next Generation Air Dominance.
Thus, we can conclude that the Pentagon has ceased to rely on global versatility in the form of a single multifunctional aircraft.
Of course, this does not mean the end of the F-35 program. However, its appointment is likely to become more specialized. For example, the destruction of the main targets and, thanks to the advanced electronic equipment, work as an advanced airborne target detection point.