Navy sets sights on AI-enabled 6th gen F/A-XX fighter to come after the F/A-18

File photo – an F/A-18 F Super Hornet assigned to the Fighting Swordsmen of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 32, prepares for an arrested landing on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) (Ike) in the Arabian Gulf.
(U. S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Anderson, W. Branch)

The Navy is currently an analysis of air frames, targeting systems, AI-compatible sensors, new weapons and engine technologies to engineer a new 6th Generation fighter to fly alongside the F-35 and eventually replaced by the F/A-18.

The Navy program, called Next-Generation Air Dominance goes beyond a purely conceptual stage and started with the exploration of the prototype systems and airframes as it strives for a new, carrier-launched on the 6th Gen fighter to emerge in 2030 and beyond, service officials explained.

“A number of important points of consideration are derived and developmental air vehicle design, advanced engines, propulsion, weapons, mission systems, electronic warfare, and other emerging technologies,” Navy spokeswoman Lt. Lauren Chatmas told Warrior.

A formal Analysis of the Alternatives, expected this year, is weighing the benefits of the leverage closer to term, the existing technologies, such as the new variants or upgrades of advanced weapons, sensors, and stealth configurations or allowing more time for leap-forward development systems.

The current analysis follows a completed Initial Capabilities Document detailing a number of the requested requirements for the new aircraft, or “family of aircraft,” Chatmas explained.

Expected decisions has a 6-Gen fighter balance is at the yet unknown duration of several promising new weapons and technologies, almost a threshold of operational capability.

For example, what is now in the development of the next generation of stealth technology, including a new radar-evading configurations, coating, advanced materials and thermal signature reduction of the fast-approaching levels of combat readiness. Still missing a clear focal point when, for example, new stealth or AI-enabled sensors can provide overmatch for the coming decades, Navy developers think that it may make sense to the current “art-of-the-possible” to the maximum extent.

This challenge investigated by a Naval Postgraduate School essay called “The 6th Generation Quandry,” asks the question whether it might be equally if not more effective to defer a formal 6th-generation for the development of truly ground-breaking developments arise, while the pursuit of advanced variants of the current, yet upgraded platforms in the meantime.

In 2016, of paper, of the Naval Postgraduate School Acquisition research program, cites a handful of the current systems exhibit a strong long-term promise. The paper sites “new models of the F-35 is optimized for air combat,” the rise of the B-21, drone-launching of the C-130 “motherships” and “weapons truck arsenal aircraft”, are placed to optimize the current technological progress.

These systems, including a B-52-such as arsenal aircraft, unmanned combat aircraft, AI-empowered sensors, and new weapons with unprecedented series are designed to meet the new iterations of AI, computing power, software upgrades and other incremental improvements.

According to this logic, there might not be enough of a margin of difference in performance between the best upgrade platforms of today – and a whole new, that could be built in the next 10 years or so.

Can these evolutionary systems, strengthened by new iterations of stealth technology that is now being woven in the B-21, itself insufficient to propel naval aviation superiority for decades? This would alleviate the risk and the cost of pursuing something that is truly “breakthrough” in the near future as possible, freeing up funds and resources to explore paradigm-changing air-to-air fighter technologies for the long term.

In addition, the current sensors, avionics and weapons systems are increasingly COMPUTER-reliant, a circumstance that makes it easier to greatly improve performance by integrating new algorithms, analysis, or processing speed. In fact, all of this raises the question whether a totally new body is really needed to get the overmatch in the coming decades? In 2030?

These questions seem to be the inform you of the current Marine rationale, that is to look at both new airframes as well as adaptations of the best of what is available. The last option brings its own advantages, because several of the industry-developers are already busy with prototypes of the 6th-Generation fighters with newly designed, stealthier airframe. Looking for applications of AI, miniaturized long-range sensors, focus on technology and drones to work with ever-greater degree of autonomy – some would argue that perhaps some of the most essential ingredients of long-term, transformative technologies are in fact already here. This would form the basis for a further period aircraft, the preparation of an off-the-shelf-items, would be continued.

Some of these decisions are also expected to be influenced by the success with which the Navy is able to the extension of the control of the service life of the F/A-18. The Navy F/A-18 Service Life Extension Program has been extended, the aircraft is the original plan, to fly and 6,000 flying hours to 8,000 hours by means of a series of upgrades. Now, looking at the airframes and advanced avionics, the service hopes to push its fleet of F/A-18’s 10,000 hours.

Marine officials tell Warrior these upgrades are large and, in many cases, it can lead to the F/A-18 combat performance in the future. A number of the adjustments start with the airframe itself; Life “Assessment” Programs look to possibly replace the central “barrel” of the shell and analyze the fatigue of the Gondola (engine coating, or the skin), service officials say.

The F/A-18 upgrades also add new navigation technology, digital memory devices, mission computers, helmet-mounted cueing systems, Electronically Scanned Array Radar and an advanced sensor aimed at the so-called Infrared Search and Track, As a passive sensor, the IRST allows for better targeting, while not emitting a signal, making it vulnerable to enemy electronic warfare attacks.

All Paths Point to the 6th Generation AI

There is broad consensus that the applications of AI appear to provide the framework for the most important expected technological progress. In fact, a 2017 paper from a 16-nation NATO conglomerate of analysts, the so-called Joint Air Power Competence Center, raises questions about when and how, the AI can go faster than the human ability to love. The essay, entitled “Air Warfare Communication in a Network Environment,” cites Air Force Acquisition Executive William Roper from his previous role as the director of the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office, saying: “AI runs out of the human ability to communicate with him.”

For example, “smart sensors” able to collect, analyze, and organize large volumes of combat information in milliseconds, with the help of AI-enhanced algorithms are now built into the shell itself is, combining new sensing technology, without increasing a plane’s radar signature. The absence of an external antenna, pod or structured range of a species removes more radar-observable structures of an airframe.

“Smart sensors and smart antenna arrays with adaptive properties would be embedded in the structure of an aircraft,” an essay of Jain University International Institute for Aerospace Engineering states. (“Sensor Technology and Futuristic combat aircraft,” Jain Univ).

At the same time, while the huge increases in the sensor runs, data sharing, and long-range connectivity will continue to be as of yet unknown, benefits of war activities, there are also challenges that arise as the combat is more included in the network. Referring to this phenomenon as the creation of clusters of “embedded ISR,” the Joint Air Power Competence Center paper warns of security risks and what it calls “hyper-connectivity.”

New much-bigger range of sensors and weapons, the inclusion of emerging iterations of AI, with an expected warfare more disaggregated, and much less of a linear force on force kind of commitment. Such a phenomenon, driven by new technology, underlined warfare rely on sensors and information networks. All this, of course, requires the extensive “embedded ISR” discussed by the paper. Network on warfare, of course, is potentially much more effective in improving targeting and reducing sensor-to-shooter time, over long distances, but it brings a significant need to organize and optimize large, but critical, flow of information. (To Read Warrior Maven on the Report of the Air Force 6th Gen Prototyping – CLICK HERE)

“Not everybody in the network needs to see and hear everything. There must be a hierarchy, and a backup architecture for degraded network operations,” the paper writes.

These types of challenges, in which large quantities of ISR data should be collected, analyzed, and organized, exactly what AI and high-speed processing can address. With the help of advanced algorithms and real-time analytics, computing power can immediately identify and disseminate the key moments or items of combat relevance, so the definition of priorities and a massive acceleration of the human decision cycle.

AI-informed combat decisions, enabled by accelerated real-time analytics let the human decision-makers to draw on otherwise inaccessible pools of data. Algorithms can integrate new information, directly comparing it with large amounts of stored data, and the informed conclusions without human intervention. Often referred to as the relaxation of the “cognitive load,” AI and iterations of the human-machine interface, can perform time-consuming or otherwise impossible information-analysis tasks, while a human functions as the ultimate decision-maker in a command and control role. While AI is a rapidly advancing towards to be able to distinguish and organize the seemingly subjective information, there are many decision-making skills and problem solving capabilities are considered unique to human cognition.

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