Air Force’s ‘Sixth Generation’ fighter to be equipped with lasers

Thursday, December 17, 2015 by

( It’s a fighter concept that remains largely on the drawing board, but the U.S. Air Force’s Sixth Generation fighter plane, should the technology come to fruition, will be an awesome weapon to behold – and light years ahead of anything else in the sky.

As reported by Breaking Defense, the fighter – which is under development by Northrup Grumman, the nation’s sixth-largest defense contractor and recent winner of the Air Force’s next-gen Long-Range Strike Bomber (B-3) – will be equipped with laser weapons and other futuristic capabilities.

Northrup’s vice president for research, technology and advanced design, Chris Hernandez, said the parameters of the fighter – which Northrup refers to as NG Air Dominance) – must have long range because it likely won’t have many overseas bases from which to operate; must “carry a lot of weapons;” and must be highly survivable.

“This looks a lot like a baby B-2 and this is really getting into our sweet spot,” Hernandez told Breaking Defense.

The defense contractor has two design teams working on the new fighter. However, the company’s top aerospace executives would not discuss the plane’s projected top speed, noting they would have to wait for clearer design requirements from the Pentagon at a future date.

As Breaking Defense reported further:

One of the keys to this new weapon, which is in the earliest stages of head-scratching and planning, will be heat management.  As Northrop president for aerospace Tom Vice noted, lasers operate at 33 percent efficiency when all goes well. That means there’s enormous heat to dissipate and that will be just from the lasers.

When the plane’s power and thrust systems are added in, design engineers will have an enormous challenge dealing with the aircraft’s potential heat signature. That will have to be handled on a system level, Hernandez said, because of the plane’s assumed stealth requirements. That could mean the plane will eventually be something like an advanced satellite, where offloading heat, electromagnetic interference and overall power requirements will pose design challenges from the outset, Breaking Defense reported.

Boeing is also developing a Sixth-Generation fighter for the Navy, the F/A-XX, under development since 2012. Both designs appear large for typical fighter planes due to range and payload requirements. It is likely to be equipped with laser weaponry as well.

As reported by the UK’s Daily Mail, the aircrafts’ laser systems will likely be capable of tracking and firing upon multiple targets. And it is possible neither plane will require a pilot.

See also:

Breaking Defense

Defense News

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