F/A-XX: The U.S. Navy Wants an Incredible 6th Generation Fighter

F/A-XX 6th Generation Fighter Navy
December 21, 2023 Topic: military Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: U.S. NavyNavyF/A-XXSuper Hornet6th Generation FighterNGAD

F/A-XX: The U.S. Navy Wants an Incredible 6th Generation Fighter

In 2012, the Navy first formally requested information for the next-generation F/A-XX. It will be a true 6th generation fighter like the NGAD concept for the U.S. Air Force. 

F/A-XX 6th Generation fighter profile: The recent Fiscal Year 2024 National Defense Authorization Act is believed to include funding for the U.S. Navy’s F/A-XX fighter.

This development and acquisition program for a future sixth-generation air superiority fighter will be distinct from the Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program.

Three top American aerospace defense contractors are currently competing to build the aircraft for the service’s new program, while others are going head to head to win the spot to produce the engine.

According to Aviation Week, the big three manufacturing giants Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman hope to build the platform to replace the Navy’s F/A-18 fleet. Additionally, Pratt & Whitney and GE Aerospace are competing to be selected for the engine spot. 

A Navy spokesperson told the Breaking Defense outlet that “F/A-XX has recently completed the Concept Refinement Phase and has entered Design Maturation,” adding that the service “has identified operational reach, capacity, long-range kill chains, autonomy, and next-generation survivability as key enablers in the Air Wing of the Future and supporting Family of System.”

F/A-XX 6th Generation Fighter, Explained 

In 2012, the Navy first issued a formal request for information for the next-generation F/A-XX.

The service specifically required an air superiority jet with multi-role capabilities able to replace the aging F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler platforms in the 2030’s.

The new F/A-XX platform should also complement the latest F-35C Lightning II and UCLASS unmanned aircraft. F/A-18 Super Hornets are set to reach the end of their 9,000 hours of service life by the early 2030’s, making the F/A-XX’s introduction to service by then paramount for the Navy.

Introducing the F/A-XX:

While the F/A-XX will be a sixth-generation platform, the Navy has yet to release many details about this new program since it is still in the very premature stage.

Some analysts believe that the new fighter will involve uncrewed operations since this phenomenon has become quite popular following the use of drones in recent conflicts.

In the 2021 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan and the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, unmanned aerial vehicles(UAVs) have proven to be effective weapons in war. Additionally, the U.S. Air Force is developing its own Next-Generation Air Dominance program, which involves the use of Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA). According to the USAF, these unmanned planes will serve as “loyal wingmen drones” to the sixth-generation fighters they will accompany. 

The U.S. Air Force's NGAD program is farther along than the Navy’s:

Though the Navy and Air Force are committed to developing their respective sixth-generation programs, the latter has been far more public with its progress. The Navy on the other hand has kept nearly all details surrounding its F/A-XX fighter a secret.

The service even classified the budget line until the FY2024 request was unveiled and it was determined that the F/A-xx had been hidden under a codename.

Despite lacking details, experts have made several assumptions about the new fighter. Primary mission sets for the F/A-XX include air combat, ground attack, air-to-air combat, surface warfare, and close air support.

The sixth-generation fighter is also expected to sport supercruise capabilities in addition to sophisticated next-generation stealth features, sensors, and radars with networking adaptability like the F-35C.

Other missions and capabilities have been outlined as air-to-air refueling, surveillance, reconnaissance, electronic warfare, target acquisition, and countermeasures. 

NGAD vs. F/A-XX: The U.S. Military's 6th Generation Fighter Future? 

The Air Force’s NGAD design possesses some similarities in terms of mission sets and priorities.

Their next-generation fighter’s design will embody advanced weapons, stealth, digital design, thermal management, and propulsion.

Although exact definitions and numerical expectations have not been defined in the fifth- or sixth-generation spaces, the upcoming NGAD and F/A-XX are expected to be equipped with attributes superior to their predecessors.

F-35s and the introduction of the F/A-XX will be critical for the Navy:

In 2022, the Navy announced it would work hard to prevent a fighter jet shortage into the next decade. To bridge the airframe availability gap, the service is looking to procure more F-35C Joint Strike Fighters and create its F/A-XX next-generation platform.

In the meantime, the Navy is extending the service lives of existing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets by 4,000 flying hours in ensure such a gap is closed.

Considering the ramp-up in tensions between Washington and Beijing, preserving a strong fighter fleet for the Navy is essential.

About the Author 

Maya Carlin is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin

Image Credit: Boeing.