The Pentagon Is Planning a New Super Rival to the Troubled F-35

The Pentagon Is Planning a New Super Rival to the Troubled F-35


After years of missteps and ghastly cost overruns, the $1 trillion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is finally coming on line and generating relatively positive reviews by the military and erstwhile critics.

Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning system is a stealthy state-of-the art jet fighter designed to span the military services for the U.S. and its allies. There are three distinct models that take off and land in conventional ways, do short takeoffs and vertical landings, and that are launched from air craft carriers using a catapult.

 Related: After Years of Bad News, the F-35 Proves a Double Threat from the Sky

Last year, a squadron of F-35B fighters tailor made for the Marines was first declared ready for deployment, and this summer those aircraft withstood intensive testing at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Also last August, the Air Force declared its F-35A Lightning II fighter jet “combat ready,” marking another important milestone for the controversial aircraft.

“It has been trash-talked a lot, but this is one mean machine and it will prove its combat value,” Rebecca Grant, president of the Washington-based firm IRIS Independent Research and a consultant to the Air Force, told “It’s ready to go to war, it’s ready to keep the peace.”

Ironically, just as the F-35 is getting up to speed, the Air Force and Navy have begun preliminary planning for a long-term successor to the single seat F-35 jet fighter – one that includes futuristic features that once seemed out of reach.

Twenty years from now, fighter jets likely will contain the latest breakthroughs in stealth technology, sophisticated computer processing and algorithms, hypersonic weapons and “smart-skins.” Those smart-skins are sensors that would be built into the aircraft itself to reduce drag assure maximum connectivity with battle field intelligence-gathering technology.

Related: Under New Management? The $1 Trillion F-35 Is Overdue for a Change 

Writing last weekend in the on-line defense systems publication Scout Warrior, managing editor Kris Osborn observed that some of these unique characteristic may already have been on display early this year when Northrop Grumman aired a commercial during the Super Bowl revealing “a flashy first look” at its concept of a new sixth-generation fighter jet.

Northrop Grumman is almost certain to be competing with Boeing-Lockheed and other major defense manufacturer for the contract to build the next generation of fighter jets when the time is ripe.

“Maximum connectivity would mean massively increased communications and sensor technology such as having an ability to achieve real-time connectivity with satellites, other aircraft and anything that could provide relevant battlefield information,” Osborn wrote in assessing the evolving design.

He said that the new aircraft might be equipped to fire hypersonic weapons, although such a design breakthrough would hinge on “successful progress with yet-to-be proven technologies such as scramjets traveling at hypersonic speeds.” So far, early testing of this technology has been a mixed bag. 

Related: F-35 Nears Production, but It’s Still Having Trouble Booting Up 

The Air Force and Navy reportedly are holding joint conceptual talks about the technologies and capabilities of the future sixth-generation fighter aircraft, according to Scout Warrior. While the Air Force has not yet identified a platform for the new aircraft, the Navy’s new aircraft will at least partly replace the existing inventory of F/A-18 Super Hornets, which will be retired beginning in 2035, according to Navy officials.