Top US Air Force general suggests future fighter-jet fleet won’t include the F-22 Raptor

F-22 f 22 flares
F-22 deploys flares

  • The Air Force’s top general is thinking about a future fighter fleet that does not include the F-22.
  • Brown said recently that a future fleet could include the A-10, F-16, F-35, F-15EX, and the NGAD.
  • The F-22 was the first fifth-generation stealth fighter.
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The US Air Force is thinking about what its future fighter fleet might look like, and that picture apparently doesn’t include the fifth-generation F-22 Raptor.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown said at a McAleese and Associates conference Wednesday that the service is trying to find the right mix of aircraft for the future fleet through an internal tactical air study, according to multiple reports.

“Right now we have seven fighter fleets,” Brown said, according to Defense One. “My intent is to get down to about four … really a four plus one,” with the A-10, a ground-attack aircraft rather than a pure fighter, as the plus-one.

The general said that the mix could include the A-10 and F-16 “for a while,” the F-35, which “will be the cornerstone” for the fleet, the F-15EX, and then the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) fighter.

As Military.com notes, absent from Brown’s list were the F-22 and F-15E Strike Eagle.

An Air Force spokesperson told Air Force Magazine that the “F-22 is still undergoing modernization” and that “there are no plans to retire it in the near-term.”

The Air Force official explained that Brown is thinking more about the long-term. The F-22 will “eventually” retire, the spokesperson said, explaining that the platform’s likely successor will be the NGAD fighter, which Brown reportedly called “the air-superiority fighter of the future.”

The F-15EX, which is replacing the ageing fleet of F-15C/D fighters, could potentially replace the F-15E as well, the Air Force previously suggested.

Although the A-10 and the F-16 made the chief of staff’s list, the A-10 is not expected to serve beyond the 2030s, according to Air Force Magazine, and the Air Force, Brown said, is already thinking about the F-16 replacement, which could be “additional F-35, or something else into the future.”

“I don’t need to make that decision today,” Brown said. “That’s probably six, seven, eight years away into the future.”

Talking about the Air Force’s internal tactical air study, Brown stated the service will “look across the board, [at] all of our combat aircraft, our attack, our fighter portfolio,” adding that the Air Force is really looking “for a window of options, because the facts and assumptions based on a threat will change over time.”

The F-22 Raptor is a single-seat, fifth-generation stealth air-dominance and multi-role fighter that first flew in 1997 and entered service in 2005.

The fighter did not fly a combat mission though until 2014, two years after the Air Force received its last F-22 fighters. The program was capped at 187 jets, and 186 are currently in service.

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The Air Force now has more F-35s than F-15s and A-10s

F-35 fighter jet elephant walk
F-35As on the runway during a combat-power exercise at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, January 6, 2020.

  • The US Air Force’s F-35 fleet has officially surpassed the F-15 and A-10 fleets in size.
  • The F-35 fleet, currently 283 jets, is second only to the F-16 fleet, which totals 934 jets.
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The US Air Force‘s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter fleet has officially surpassed the number of F-15 Eagle jets and A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft, becoming the second largest fighter jet fleet in its aircraft inventory, the service’s top general said Friday.

Chief of Staff Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown revealed the new statistic during a hearing about the fiscal 2022 budget before the House Appropriations defense subcommittee. As of this week, he said, the F-35 fighter fleet is second in size only to the F-16 Fighting Falcon; the Air Force has 934 F-16 C and D models.

Air Force spokeswoman Maj. Malinda Singleton told Military.com the service has 283 F-35s, which also surpasses the A-10 Warthog fleet by two aircraft.

During the hearing, Brown discussed how the Air Force plans to move forward with its “TacAir study,” which will determine the right mix of aircraft for the future, and assess how future fighter concepts will fit into the current mix of fourth- and fifth-generation fighters.

“It won’t necessarily give us an answer, [but] a range of answers to take a look at the threat and make sure we have done the analysis to inform ourselves but also our key stakeholders, which includes this committee,” he said.

F-35 and F-22
Two F-22s, top, and two F-35s.

The F-35 fleet eclipsed the number of F-22 Raptors in 2019 – with 203 at the end of that fiscal year; the Air Force capped its Raptor fleet at 187 in 2009 (it currently has 186).

According to the Air Force Association’s 2020 aircraft almanac, the service has 241 F-15C/D Eagle models and 218 F-15E Strike Eagles.

Brown in February disputed reports calling the F-35 a high-cost Pentagon failure, saying that was “nowhere near the case.” In his prepared testimony before the subcommittee Friday, he said the jet remains “the cornerstone of our future fighter force and air superiority.”

He told reporters February 17 that the Air Force hasn’t ruled out bringing a new fighter jet into its inventory as it looks to replace older, fourth-generation F-16s. This marks a change; since the beginning of the Joint Strike Fighter program, the service had held that older Falcons should be replaced by the fifth-generation Lightning II. Some critics view Brown’s comments as foreshadowing the stealth jet’s demise.

The Air Force is the largest customer for the F-35 and hopes to procure 1,763 F-35 conventional takeoff and landing A-variants.

But according to Aviation Week, future defense budgets could limit the inventory. The magazine reported in December that the service might cap its total F-35 buy at 1,050 fighters.

The Air Force expects to keep a well-rounded mix of fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft through the 2030s, officials have said.

Last month, the service added the F-15EX Eagle II to its ranks as its new fourth-plus generation fighter.

– Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.

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China is working hard on its ‘F-22 killer’ and other radars to better track US stealth aircraft

China military radar
Military radars on display at the 9th World Radar Expo in Nanjing in China’s Jiangsu Province, April 23, 2021.

  • Improvements to Chinese radar systems are being highlighted at an industry expo in Nanjing.
  • Developments are coming as many countries boost their defenses with drones and stealth aircraft.
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China has put the spotlight on its advanced radars, highlighting improvements in its ability to track US stealth aircraft at an industry expo, according to state media.

The hardware on display at the three-day World Radar Expo in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing included the long-range SLC-7, JY-26 and LC-8E systems, state-run Global Times reported on Friday.

Each of these systems can identify and track stealth aircraft, which are designed to avoid detection and carry out precision strikes against key military assets.

Song Zhongping, a Hong Kong-based military commentator and a former People’s Liberation Army instructor, said China was putting more attention on radars as China seeks to improve its ability to identify enemy targets amid various military threats.

“China is developing even more advanced systems such as metric wave, quantum and laser radars to further improve Chinese military’s tracking capabilities,” Song said.

He said China aimed to integrate radar systems throughout the country in a single early-warning network.

The expo, which ends on Saturday, showcases both military and civilian equipment for aerospace, aviation, shipping and detection.

China’s quest to have more advanced anti-stealth radars came as countries around the world are researching and buying stealth fighters or drones to boost their defences.

The SLC-7, developed by the Nanjing Research Institute of Electronics Technology, is a long-range surveillance radar that can detect and track multiple targets at the same time, withstand saturation attacks, adapt to jamming, and rapidly identify targets, according to the Global Times.

The JY-26 is called the “F-22 killer” and can also identify and track other stealth objects like the B-2 bomber and F-35 stealth fighter jets.

The YLC-8E can detect and track aircraft more than 500km (310 miles) away as well as missile threats out to ranges of over 700 km.

The Global Times reported that the three systems were only a small portion of China’s anti-stealth radar family.

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China’s J-20 stealth fighter jet could get engines that put it ‘on a par’ with the F-22 in next 2 years

China J 20 Stealth Fighter
China’s J-20 stealth fighter at an air show in Guangdong Province, November 1, 2016.

  • China’s fifth-generation J-20 jets were designed to compete with US F-22s but use stopgap engines that limit their speed and combat capabilities.
  • China has spent two decades trying to master the technology behind the WS-15 engine, which a military source says is now almost ready to enter service.
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China’s “Mighty Dragon” J-20 stealth fighter jet is expected to get purpose-built new engines within the next two years, according to a military source.

The WS-15 engine has been specially designed for the J-20 and is designed to improve its manoeuvrability and combat capabilities.

“The development of WS-15 is nearly complete … or may be finished within one or two years,” said the source, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the topic.

The source added that the project had fallen behind schedule and had taken more than 10 years but the upgrade means “it will be on a par with the American Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor.”

On Monday, Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television broadcast an interview with Li Gang, the pilot who made the J-2o’s maiden flight, in which he said the new engines would maximise the fifth-generation fighter’s capabilities.

At the time of the plane’s debut in 2011 – which was timed to coincide with a visit to Beijing by then-US defence secretary Robert Gates – it was fitted with Russian Saturn Al-31 engines.

These were designed for fourth-generation fighters, which meant the new fighter was less agile than the US planes it was supposed to compete with.

J-20 stealth fighter china
China’s J-20 stealth fighter.

The American Raptors are fitted with engines that use two-dimensional thrust-vectoring nozzles – a technology China has been trying to master for two decades and which will be used in the new engines.

These nozzles allow the direction of the engine thrust to be controlled, which means the plane can perform sudden manoeuvres that conventional aircraft cannot – for example avoiding missiles.

China has made some progress in this field and in 2018 it unveiled the WS-10C Taihang engine, which offers greater manoeuvrability but less power than the WS-15.

But the WS-15 engine failed its final evaluation in 2019 and the WS-10C, first tested on a single-engine fighter, has been used as a stopgap for the twin-engined J-20.

The J-20 was designed to be a fifth-generation stealth fighter jet on par with Lockheed’s F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning multirole strike fighters.

The fighters were rushed into service by the People’s Liberation Army in 2017 after the Pentagon started deploying its F-35s in the Asia-Pacific region.

The PLA currently has 50 J-20s in service and the military source said the Chengdu Aerospace Corporation (CAC) is expected to produce another 50 by the end of this year.

“But compared with the Lockheed Martin production line, which is able to deliver more than 100 F-35s every year, each of the CAC’s [four] production lines only has the capacity to make about one J-20 a month,” the source said.

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China’s military is keeping a close eye on the US’s development of a new, advanced fighter jet

F-22 raptor f 22
US Air Force F-22 Raptors.

The US Air Force’s desire to radically reshape and accelerate the way it develops future fighter planes could propel China to ramp up its plans for next-generation aircraft, Chinese experts said.

A military insider familiar with China’s next-generation aircraft project said Chinese aircraft designers were keeping a close eye on anything disclosed by their American counterparts about NGAD, or the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) programme.

If implemented, NGAD would create a network of advanced fighter aircraft, sensors and weapons, with jets and autonomous drones fighting side by side rather than as a single-aircraft platform or technology.

“China has also planned to develop a next-generation aircraft, but so far just specifically for the air force not for the navy, calling it a ‘background plane,'” said the insider, who requested anonymity.

“Because of a lack of reflection standards and relevant parameters, there are doubts around the development progress of the background plane.”

The US has announced two next-generation programmes: NGAD for the Air Force, and the F/A-XX for the Navy, a long-term plan to develop next-generation ship-borne aircraft to complement and eventually replace the current F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighters.

In September, the US Air Force revealed it had flown a full-scale demonstration model built as part of its NGAD programme.

The fighter is one of at least two sixth-generation jets being developed by US contractors to maintain the USAF’s technological edge, according to the Air Superiority 2030 Flight Plan released in 2016.

At a US Air Force Association symposium last week, Gen. Mark Kelly, head of Air Combat Command, said the Air Force needed to have its next-generation air dominance fighter soon if it wanted to compete with China.

“What I don’t know – and we’re working with our great partners – is if our nation will have the courage and the focus to field this capability before someone like the Chinese fields it and uses it against us,” he said.

“We just need to make sure we keep our narrative up and articulate the unambiguous benefit we’ve had as a nation to have that leading-edge technology ensuring we have air superiority for the nation and the joint force.”

China J 20 Stealth Fighter
China unveils its J-20 stealth fighter during an air show in Zhuhai, Guangdong Province, China, November 1, 2016.

Beijing-based military expert Zhou Chenming said Chinese aircraft designers would welcome US Air Force efforts to speed up the launch of NGAD fighters.

“Before making the direction of new aircraft, Chinese aircraft designers should clarify the parameters of their rival aircraft, especially the American fighters, including their combat range, speed, flying height and other dogfight capabilities, for basic reference,” he said.

Development of the country’s J-20, the PLA’s most advanced stealth fighter jet, was smooth because its design was based on its American rival, the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter, he said.

The F-22 entered service in 2005, while China’s J-20 was launched in 2011 and formally joined the PLA Air Force in 2017. But China has failed to produce the WS-15 tailor-made engine designed for the J-20 fighters, and must still use the Russian AL-31F engine and its lesser home-made version, the WS-10C.

Steve Burgess, an aircraft specialist at the US Air War College, said the NGAD was aimed at developing a new fighter for the 2020s, a move to further reinforce the status of the US military as the global leader, as well as widen the gap between China and his country.

“Engine design problems will continue to hold China back [in their next-generation aircraft development programme],” he said, adding that Chinese aircraft technology still failed to threaten the US.

But Song Zhonging, a former PLA instructor, said China’s defence industry had more “privileges” than the US in terms of funding, compared with the strict budget approval process in the US.

US Congress has approved US$904 million of the Air Force’s US$1 billion request in the 2021 financial year, a sign of limited support by American lawmakers. In the 2020 financial year, the service received US$905 million for the programme.

Because of the high cost of an F-22 – about US$250 million – the last one was delivered in 2012. Amid criticism from taxpayers, the Pentagon decided to develop the inferior and lower-cost single-engine F-35 Lightning, for more than US$1 trillion over the 60-year lifespan of the programme, making it the most expensive weapons project in the American military.

“Thanks to the increasing pressure from the US … that has encouraged Chinese leadership to pour and mobilise all resources and manpower to strengthen the country’s defence industry,” Song said.

Russia has announced that the country’s two aerospace juggernauts Mikoyan (MiG) and JSC Sukhoi have joined hands to build a conceptual sixth-generation fighter jet, the MiG-41 interceptor, under the PAK DP programme.

Western European countries are trying to develop their own new-generation aircraft such as the Future Combat Air System and Tempest fighters.

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