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US Navy: What Comes After Super Hornet and Growler?

MarkOttawa

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Thinking about the way ahead:
We Asked the US Navy: What Will Replace the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler?

The U.S. Navy’s analysis of alternatives (AOA) for its next generation replacement for its F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fleet is well underway. The AOA will be roughly a year-and-a-half long, but the process is in its infancy. While the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program will aim to fill the gap in the carrier air wing when the Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler airborne electronic attack aircraft retire, the service does not yet have any concepts emerging from that on-going analysis.

“There are no concepts yet that have come up,” Rear Adm. (Upper Half) DeWolfe Miller, the Navy’s director of air warfare told The National Interest during an interview in the Pentagon on Aug. 23. “So myself and deputy undersecretary of the navy for airwarfare— DASN (Air) [Gary Kessler]—are the two co-chairs of that AOA.”

The Navy’s AOA is looking at a broad range of concepts that would fill the void left by the Super Hornet and Growler in the 2030s using “set-based design methodology,” Miller said. The Navy and the Air Force will conduct two separate AOAs for their respective sixth-generation fighter efforts that will likely develop two separate solutions for their respective missions. That being said, the two jets could share technology and they will be able to operate together seamlessly. “We will leverage each other on the technology and we’ll leverage each other on the interoperability,” Miller said. “So we’ll be informed of what each others’ efforts are doing.”..
http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/we-asked-the-us-navy-what-will-replace-the-f-18e-f-super-17453

Relevant:

No Mo’ Further Generation US Manned Fighters?
https://cgai3ds.wordpress.com/2016/08/23/mark-collins-no-mo-further-generation-us-manned-fighters/

Mark
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MarkOttawa

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Current US Navy thinking on replacing Super Hornet--need range vs China (implications for Canada if we choose Boeing fighter?):

Navy Quietly Starts Development of Next-Generation Carrier Fighter; Plans Call for Manned, Long-Range Aircraft

After nearly a decade of fits and starts, the Navy has quietly initiated work to develop its first new carrier-based fighter in almost 20 years, standing up a new program office and holding early discussions with industry, USNI News has learned.

The multi-billion-dollar effort to replace the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and electronic attack EA-18G Growlers beginning in the 2030s [emphasis added] is taking early steps to quickly develop a new manned fighter to extend the reach of the carrier air wing and bring new relevance to the Navy’s fleet of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.

Navy acquisition chief James Geurts told reporters last week that the service created a program office for the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) initiative.

“We’re working to outline that program and the acquisition approach and all that as we speak,” Geurts said.

Naval Air Systems Command’s (NAVAIR) recent establishment of the NGAD program office comes as the Pentagon faces a constrained budget environment while trying to adjust to a new defense strategy focused on combatting Russian and Chinese threats in the Indo-Pacific theater.

A New Manned Fighter

The service is moving toward the pursuit of a manned fighter aircraft that would include many of the capabilities on the F-35C Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter, but with updated technology and expanded range, Bryan Clark, a naval analyst and senior fellow with the Hudson Institute, told USNI News this week.

“The idea would be that you would take those same capabilities forward and have them be built into an architecture that’s designed around a 21st-century model. So you’d get more seamless fusion and integration of all these sensor inputs, and better ways of interacting with the pilot, and more incorporation of autonomous operations,” Clark said. “So even more so than with the F-35, you’d end up with an aircraft where the pilot is really operating a computer that is flying the airplane and operating its systems, more so than today [emphasis added].”

The Navy plans to seek a wholly new design, rather than a derivative design of aircraft already on the production line, for the sixth-generation fighter, despite the service receiving suggestions to combine Lockheed Martin’s F-35 and Boeing’s F/A-18 designs with modern technology for the future aircraft, Clark said.

“I think that’s not a great idea because it’s going to be inherently more costly than simply a derivative design in an environment where the Navy’s not going to have the kind of budget flexibility that it’s had in the recent past,” Clark said.

Compared to the F-35’s 700 nautical miles of combat radius, Clark said his “impression” is that the Navy hopes to build a new fighter with a radius of more than 1,000 nautical miles.

Accelerated Schedule

While the service’s objective for fielding the new fighter aircraft had been the 2030s, when the Super Hornets would begin to reach the end of their service lives, the Navy will try to speed up that timeline because the Super Hornets are likely to reach their maximum flight hours sooner than previously anticipated [emphasis added], according to Clark.

The combination of desires for program acceleration and a new design could be difficult for the Navy at a time when the Pentagon is preparing for flat or declining budgets...
https://news.usni.org/2020/08/18/navy-quietly-starts-development-of-next-generation-carrier-fighter-plans-call-for-manned-long-range-aircraft

And a couple of tweets, with Finland's fighter competition in mind, from a Finnish blogger who knows his stuff:

1)
Corporal Frisk
@CorporalFrisk

For Finland the big question is what this means for the future of the Super Hornet? There's a big difference between USN retiring the platform in the late 30's or early 50's.
https://twitter.com/CorporalFrisk/status/1295962733784043520

2)
Corporal Frisk
@CorporalFrisk

If I would have to guess NGAD won't reach FOC before 2040, and with a rolling transition it might buy enough time for #FinAF to feel confident that the aircraft is a viable contender for #HXhanke, but that's just a guess ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
https://twitter.com/CorporalFrisk/status/1295962735247855618

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MarkOttawa

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How much USN jointness with USAF on new NGAD fighters?

Geurts: Navy, Air Force working to find ‘Sweet Spot’ in Collaborating on New Fighters

The Navy and Air Force are working to determine the best way to approach and cooperate on their respective Next Generation Air Dominance efforts, according to the Navy’s chief acquisition official.

James Geurts told reporters today that while it’s premature to discuss the specific programmatic details of NGAD, the two services are looking at where they can team up on shared interests, but also prevent a scenario in which collaboration makes it difficult to pursue sixth-generation aircraft.

“There are certain areas . . . that will have unique requirements and needs and then there’ll be other areas where maybe [there are] some more common parts to it,” Geurts told reporters.
“But there’s good dialogue to find that sweet spot of collaboration, but not create such jointness that it becomes too complex to execute efficiently.”

The Navy in May quietly stood up an NGAD office, known as PMA-230, out of Naval Air Systems Command, USNI News reported last week. The service has already initiated outreach to industry about NGAD, an effort to replace the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and electronic attack EA-18G Growlers in the 2030s, and tapped a program manager.

Geurts said the new program office is working to establish the Navy’s NGAD acquisition plan.

“Part of the stand-up of the program office is to help define those details and start building the more detailed acquisition strategies and plans and technical approaches as we in tandem work the requirements,” Geurts said.

While the Navy has said little about the NGAD initiative, the service has suggested it is moving toward a family-of-systems approach that could include both manned and unmanned platforms [emphasis added]. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday said last year that the next aviation combatant could feature a combination of both manned and unmanned systems.

Meanwhile, the Air Force is seeking its own family-of-systems for NGAD and sought over $1 billion in research and development funding for the initiative in its Fiscal Year 2021 budget request.

“Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) is a family of capabilities enabling Air Superiority for the Joint Force in the most challenging operational environments. The program matures technology and reduces risk through prototyping activities and demonstration efforts,” the Air Force’s budget documents read. “Key NGAD attributes include enhancements in survivability, lethality, and persistence across a range of military operations.”

Asked if the Navy would pursue a carrier or land-based drone like the Australian Air Force’s Loyal Wingman, Geurts said all options are on the table.

“We’re open to looking at all concepts going forward that would allow us to gain a competitive advantage, so that may or may not include something like a Loyal Wingman kind of concept
[emphasis added],” he said.

Boeing is building prototypes of Loyal Wingman, an unmanned aircraft meant to supplement other aviation platforms, for the Australian Air Force. The U.S. Air Force has embarked on a similar effort through its Skyborg program.
https://news.usni.org/2020/08/27/geurts-navy-air-force-working-to-find-sweet-spot-in-collaborating-on-new-fighters

Mark
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MarkOttawa

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US Navy CNO on what comes after Super Hornet (RCAF note possible timelines):

CNO Gilday: Navy Needs ‘Fundamental Change’ in How it Develops Fighters

A decade from now, the backbone of the Navy’s tactical air fleet will begin to retire with no clear successor in line yet.

Earlier this year, the service signaled the end of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet program and zeroed out the production line past 2021 to instead fund the Navy’s Next Generation Air Dominance program
[emphasis added]. The NGAD program office stood up earlier this year after a decade of stops and starts to develop a system or systems that will replace the weapons-carrying capacity of the Super Hornet, USNI News reported in August.

For Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday, the Navy needs to avoid repeating the procedural mistakes that led to a 20-year process for the F-35C Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter to make it into the Fleet…

“I am more cautious with sixth-gen TACAIR, only because I’ll tell you that if I’m thinking about how long it took to field the F-35,” he said.
“If we invested in next-generation TACAIR beyond [the fifth-generation F-35] capabilities, there also has to be a fundamental change in the development and the delivery of that aircraft or it’s not going to be worth the investment.”

Gilday was bullish about the future of unmanned aviation systems for the carrier air wing.

“There are very highly classified efforts going on – R&D with respect to next-generation air wing. There is a heavy unmanned focus on that. I am a big proponent of the unmanned,” he said…

“I’m not satisfied at the pace at which we’re moving,” Gilday said.
“Comparatively, if we talk about Navy’s efforts in unmanned under the sea, on the sea, and in the air, that we would give ourselves maybe, you know, a B-minus under the sea, a B-minus on the sea and probably a C-minus or perhaps worse in the air.”

Gilday cited the seven-year gap between the 2013 landing of the X-47B Unmanned Carrier Air Vehicle demonstrator (UCAS-D) aboard USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) at sea and the 2019 first flight of MQ-25A Stingray unmanned tanker program.

“The MQ-25 is a project that I am putting heat on to deliver. And then we have to deliver at scale,” he said.

Beyond that, there are still fundamental questions about the Navy’s follow-on to the Super Hornet that the service has yet to answer.

Will we be doing air-to-air combat in 2045 with manned aircraft? I think that’s a big question [emphasis added],” he said.

“If we do go manned in sixth-gen, the development and delivery timeline has to be significantly better than what we’ve seen with fifth-gen.“
https://news.usni.org/2020/11/09/cno-gilday-navy-needs-fundamental-change-in-how-it-develops-fighters

Mark
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