A U.S. Navy document, titled Navy Aviation Vision 2030-2035, sheds some light on the Navy’s newest fighter, the 6th-generation Boeing F/A-XX.
Although there is only a single, small, grainy image of the F/A-XX in the document, we can nevertheless glean a few details about the airframe.
The design is unlike any previous U.S. Navy aircraft design. The fighter features canards just to the rear of the cockpit and a novel hybrid delta-lambda wing shape. In contrast to previous F/A-XX concept art that indicated a tailless airframe design, this single image shows a tailed airframe, possibly with ruddervators. However, the image is a bit too low-resolution to be sure.
Though it could potentially fly unmanned, the F/A-XX nonetheless retains a traditional cockpit. It also features a two-engine design, somewhat reminiscent of the F-22 Raptor fighter jet’s extremely stealthy, thrust vectoring rectangular exhaust nozzles.
In addition to the single image, the Navy also described what role the F/A-XX would play within a future Navy carrier wing, explaining that the Navy’s Next Generation Air Dominance family of systems will revolve around the new F/A-XX, acting as the “quarterback.”
Manned and unmanned aircraft, “plus attritable assets will be employed across domains to enable integrated kinetic and non-kinetic fires at tactically relevant ranges. As autonomy and ML efforts mature, the appropriate mix of F/A-XX, manned and unmanned platforms will be evaluated to ensure the most lethal and affordable CVW (Carrier Air Wing) possible.”
Once it enters service, the F/A-XX will likely be the world’s first sixth-generation fighter. Offering a host of capabilities, as well as a comprehensive stealth package, the airframe will be leaps and bounds ahead of other fighters. Still, the new airframe won’t simply replace the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II stealth figher—or even the Navy’s F/A-18 Super Hornets.
Navy Carrier Air Wings will fly a diverse mix of airframes—including Super Hornets, F-35s, and the new F/A-XX, at least until 2035 or perhaps even later when Super Hornets will be retired. In fact, the Navy will continue to rely on the F-35C. “The F-35C of 2030 and beyond will serve as an invaluable force multiplier for the CSG” and the Navy’s “strike platform of choice” for the time being. Furthermore, F-35s and F/A-18 will work together, allowing the older fighter design “to be a more survivable and lethal platform [by] leveraging the F-35C’s stealth and passive detection abilities to shape the overall air picture.”
It should be remembered that the image the Navy previewed is a single, not necessarily authoritative, image. Concept art thus far has dramatically changed, from tailless delta wing designs to this newest, potentially tailed airframe design with canards. Modifications—even drastic changes—to what the F/A-XX ultimately looks like should be not anticipated but expected.
Caleb Larson is a multimedia journalist and Defense Writer with the National Interest. He lives in Berlin and covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technology, focusing on American foreign policy, European security, and German society.
Image: Wikimedia Commons/Boeing