DEFENSE: US Air Force Announces F-22 Replacement, Penetrating Counter Air

An F-22 flies alongside WWII-era P-51 Mustang "Miss Helen" as part of a heritage flight at the 2016 Flying Legends airshow in Duxford, UK. Interestingly, the new Penetrating Counter Air requirements share some conceptual similarities to the long range escort mission the P-51 was tasked with during the Second World War.

The days of the Air Force‘s first stealth air superiority fighter, the F-22 Raptor, may already be numbered. US Air Force General Mike Holmes told Aviation Week that the requirements for the next-generation “Penetrating Counter Air” (PCA) program are taking shape. Although the F-22 remains the most advanced and capable fully operational fighter in the world, new foreign developments have emerged which may threaten its dominance. Specifically, the Russian Su-57 stealth fighter resulting from the PAK FA program, and the already in service S-400 Triumf (NATO reporting name SA-21 Growler) air defense missile system were cited by the General as being two systems that could potentially threaten the F-22. Therefore, a new fighter program is needed to maintain air dominance, according to the general.

The fighter that results from PCA will be unlike any ever before. Unlike either the F-22 or F-35, it will be a long ranged platform, able to escort B-2 Spirit and B-21 Raider stealth bombers on their missions. To accomplish this, a new three-stream variable cycle jet engine will be developed, which will improve fuel efficiency as well as thrust by adding a second stream of bypass air, as well as by utilizing advanced materials. This engine will likely leverage the technologies applied via the Adaptive Engine Transition Program (AETP). To maximize its stealth properties as well as reduce drag, the resulting PCA design will almost certainly lack any vertical control surfaces – a first for a fighter aircraft. The program is also reportedly accompanied by a new air-to-air missile program: the Air Dominance Air-to-Air Weapon (ADAAW), which will likely replace the current AIM-120D AMRAAM.

Like this defense-related article? Please let us know in the comments!

H/T: Popular Mechanics

Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at


  • James Kachman

    So, uh.. firearms?

    Kidding, kidding… I’m sure it’ll have an internal gun!

    Actually though, I doubt we’ll see a flying prototype for this within 20 years, and it won’t be fully operational for another 10 after. Also expect it to be laser armed. A tailless laser armed fighter is coming dangerously close to Star Wars technology.

    • noob

      Star Wars? As in “it’s been delayed and doesn’t work”?

    • b0x3r0ck

      I’m pretty sure UFO nuts have been recording videos of this fighter for years now.

      • Russ Kell

        Sub-contracted to aliens. Cheaper labor.

        • Blurb

          Indowy, definitely.

    • McThag

      20 years? You, sir, your glass is 1/100 full!

      Gotta love the optimism though.

    • J.T.

      Na, not Star Wars. More like Ace Combat.

      • Mr._Exterminatus

        Such a great series, can’t wait for 7 next year.

    • Mystick

      Why? The F-35 doesn’t.. at least it doesn’t have on that works, since despite being in production for ten years, there STILL isn’t software that works for the gun.

      • James Kachman

        Odd, an article in Aerospace Daily & Defense Report cites the 3F software block, which allows for the internal gun to be used in the entirety of the flight envelope, as going live in September. So sure, you’re technically not wrong (though it’s demonstrated aerial firings of its internal cannon so you’re mostly wrong) but you’ll be wrong in a few weeks.

        Also, the F-22, a *single* variant aircraft, first flew in ’97 and entered IOC in 2005. Two years behind for two extra variants doesn’t sound that bad at all to me.

      • The Brigadier

        That plane has been a disappointment.

    • nadnerbus

      I’d be surprised if it ever gets built. I am very pessimistic about the financial future of this country. When it costs more to pay interest on the debt than defense (and that isn’t all that far off at the rate we are going), defense will go. Because sure as hell no politician is going to touch entitlements. And they can’t keep borrowing at the current rate forever.

      Military strength comes from economic strength. I would much prefer we take the steps now to assure the former than worry about the latter.

      • Peter Nissen

        Could be made in China and shipped via Aliexpress for a 10th of the cost of being made in the US of A. Call it the iPhone of Phighters!

        • William Elliott

          yah, but then you’d have to worry about the seat covers off gassing something toxic into the cockpit…

        • The Brigadier

          And be made of pot metal and would have a life of two months like every other Chinese made product.

  • Ευστάθιος Παλαιολόγος

    I like the defense articles very much but I can get those from other sites/forums.
    I would rather if the TFB would remain a strictly “man portable weapons” related blog that goes…. deep into it’s area of specialty


  • ActionPhysicalMan

    Popular Mechanics is always right about the future. Note the ubiquitous Moeller flying cars and enormous cargo airships plying the skies;-)

    • Peter Nissen

      like the sarcasm

    • Some Rabbit

      “a new three-stream variable cycle jet engine will be developed” sounds like this magic engine hasn’t made off the drawing board yet. They may as well predict that humans will populate the galaxy “just as soon as we work the bugs out of the warp drive.”

      • jonp

        There seemed to me to be a whole lot of “to be developed” in that article. I wonder how much over budget and delayed production that is going to entail. The Air Force and it’s toys are always needing improvement, more money, more aircraft etc…

        • Mel_Anosis

          With an anemic GDP growth rate that we have had during the past 8 years it will be impossible to fund the military in an efficient manner.
          And it looks like the Swamp is not going to allow Trump to institute economic reform to increase the growth of GDP.
          But look at the bright side. We have Obamaphones.

          • carlcasino

            and now that we have removed the Confederate Flag and are removing all the Statues the race problem is solved and the blacks can achieve the American Dream of keeping their families together and educating their children and murdering each other and reducing the out of wedlock births to under 50%. Did I miss something -somewhere???

          • Mel_Anosis

            And today I heard they want to rename Ft Bragg and Ft Hood because of their confederate roots. That should solve all the
            problems in Chicago also….Right?

        • carlcasino

          Then you have to add a Navy version, and a Marine version and a army version and then the export to China and Russia Versions ?
          Time for a Force Consolidation since the days of a million man army for every nation on earth is an oxymoron. I forecast pilotless aircraft to be the norm in under 20 years. It would be less than that but the military is very protective of their turf since no one can do what we do? How about a 100 Special Forces divisions and control of the Seas? 20 Trident equipped Submarines can remove China and Russia from existence in under an hour until we GIVE AWAY our hated Star Wars advantage.

          • The Brigadier

            Except that China is a nation of 1..2 billion people and their standing army of men at arms is slightly more than 12 million. That is a tiny fraction of their total population and China is one of our main adversaries in the world today. We need more fighting men and women and we desperately need new tech to even the odds.

          • carlcasino

            I demand a military force to defend America from all enemies Foreign and DOMESTIC but I will do everything in my limited power to prevent our CIC from using ground troops without the commitment to WIN AT ANY COST. Meaning don’t use our troops as Cannon Fodder to show we are doing something. WAR is not a game of Social Graces where collateral damage is even considered. Leave the damn Lawyers in Front of our Troops or leave them at some outpost in the North pole with no communications. I prefer the former. If China has 15 million foot soldiers –So What? Turn the battle field into a glass skating rink and let them burn. If a conflict is worth even considering it’s worth using every tool in our toolbox to eliminate the enemy. There is a story from the gun fighters of the old west. The first shot is usually the winner. I prefer winning over any alternatives.

          • The Brigadier

            I agree with you completely Carl. We are currently undermanned and behind in technology with the exception of our H.A.A.R.P. system that is the only keeping our enemies at bay.

        • carlcasino


        • The Brigadier

          The enemy just surpassed us for the first time in a long time and we are now playing catch up. Our former President cut the Air Forces’ budget to the bone in 2010 and the total number of AF personnel has fallen to a total of 92,000. The ratio of support personnel to fighting personnel is basically 12 to 1 for all of our services, so you can see how truly vulnerable we have become.

      • John Morrison

        The GE F120 engine used this technology and was flying in 1989. It has much improved supersonic performance over the F119, but was deemed to be too complex, even though it had fewer parts than the F119. From the public data at the time, the F120 engine in a YF23 could sustain a Mach 1.9 cruise speed, and an F119 engine in a YF22 (the selected combination) could only sustain a cruise speed of Mach 1.4. I don’t recall any comparison on the same aircraft. With 30 years of materials and design improvements it could be quite impressive. The big problem with practical supersonic aircraft is still the sonic boom. Also, the engine has very little non-military applications, which increases development costs, unlike more conventional engines.

      • The Brigadier

        An Astronaut engineer at NASA is working on Miguel Alcubierri’s warp engine design. Alcubierri is a physicist at Monterrey Tech in Nuevo Leon, Mexico that is Mexico’s MIT. Alcubierri announced about seven years ago that there are three laws of physics that his concept violates. The NASA engineer has already figured out two workarounds for the first two laws, and he has an idea for a third workaround. Another NASA engineer has successfully designed a working model of his nuclear engine that will take us to Mars in two weeks instead of six months. Effectively Dr. Chen has designed an “impulse” engine to take us around a solar system and the Warp drive engine if and when it can be built will take us at Warp 1 to other solar systems. Technological miracles are being discovered at a fever pitch.

  • SP mclaughlin


  • glasspix

    I wish they’d say whether they are considering an unmanned option. Although that would be the end of the Top Gun franchise, cannot turn bloke with ashtray thick glasses sitting in a container in Arizona with a joystick in his hands in to Maverick.

    • ActionPhysicalMan

      Everybody else is going to lose their jobs, there is no reason to think pilots will be exempt. They are too heavy, delicate, slow, expensive and politically more difficult to expend a component than a machine pilot.

    • James Earl Jones

      Highway to the office zone.

    • Not likely ACM isn’t a job that can be handed to unmanned aircraft just yet. Due to the pesky laws of physics the latency on a non-LOS controlled UAV is simply too long. That is why UAVs haven’t replaced all strike roles.

      • ActionPhysicalMan

        The fighten that is being spoken of probably won’t be in service for at least 20 years. It is hard to imagine that a machine wouldn’t be capable of making it’s own tactical decisions by then.

        • Serious answer: I don’t think technical limitations are the problem. I hope we never allow computers, no matter how smart, to make shoot/no shoot decisions. I don’t think war should be automated. Humans should make war not AIs.

          Semi-joking answer:

          • flyingburgers

            We already have cruise missiles that do just that in the land-attack role.

          • That isn’t quite the same. Due to how signatures are being used.

            But I am in the camp that we shouldn’t make war too clean, or else we will become too willing to use it.

          • ostiariusalpha

            That’s putting yourself at a self-inflicted disadvantage against opponents that don’t value the lives of their soldiers as much; seems about as unwise as replacing humans entirely from combat. There should be a sane compromise between having war totally automated and sending humans in to do incredibly dangerous, but necessary, combat missions. We probably won’t find that balance though, it just doesn’t seem to be in our nature.

          • CommonSense23

            I’m not so much worried about the skynet side of things. But exploiting the large gap completely unmanned and autonomous machines will have. Obvious things to a person definitely aren’t always obvious to a machine.

          • ActionPhysicalMan

            I posit that will come done to either give AI a free hand or lose. The decision speed will be too critical a factor not to use.

          • The Brigadier

            The stop gap answer is air superiority drones. Your remote operator is the brains and their are no physical limitations on him that pilot’s can’t ignore in regular manned aircraft. Eventually we will have inertial thrust dampeners and can put people back in charge of the aircraft. Right now science in many fields is doubling its knowledge every four months. Hundreds of major breakthroughs are happening every single day. If we can avoid a major war for the next five or six years we just might have inertial dampeners.

    • The Brigadier

      We already have them and they are our latest drones. No cockpit, no life support systems or heads up displays, instrumentation displays, or ejection seats. They are about 2/3’s the length of a manned fighter and can out turn and fly faster since you don’t have to worry about a pilot blacking out from excessive g’s or in really violent maneuvers killing the pilots.
      We are working on inertial dampeners, but that is black project and there is nothing being talked about it. I think its still many decades away, but some times a physicist makes a leap in logic and its earlier than later. Once we have them, there is a distinct advantage to having a pilot in the cockpit that won’t black out or die from even the most violent maneuvers.

  • GhostTrain81

    I don’t think that the existence of requirements for the next thing means that any piece of hardware’s days are numbered. I think the JSF program technically began in the mid-90’s, and its product the F-35 is very much still a work in progress. Also, the aircraft that the F-22 & F-35 were supposed to replace are all still alive and kicking.

    • That is only because the number of F-22 were cut to the point that it couldn’t replace the F-15. But IMO unless there is a massive cut in the number of F-35’s the F-16, F-18 (non-Rhino), F-117 (retired but still maintained in flying condition), and the AV-8B’s days are numbered.

      • clampdown

        I expect to see many F-16s upgraded and adapted for A2A to replace F-15s in ANG Units tasked with airspace defense and interception.

        • Right now the USAF has no clue what they are going to do. On one hand they are moving forward with AESA radar upgrades on the F-15 (C,D, and E), on the other hand they are extending the life (SLEP) of the F-16.

          I wouldn’t be surprised if they go with a mix of some upgraded F-15Cs and Ds, and some newer upgraded F-16s. But the plan all long was to keep the F-15Es as they are from the late 80s and early 90s.

          • The Brigadier

            The F-15Cs were the pure fighters without the heavy strike fighter bomb mounts and the heavy landing gear. Just like navy carrier planes have to have. All the other F-15 iterations were strike fighter/bombers.

          • Bzzzt… wrong. All F-15s produced for the USAF except the F-15E were delivered in a pure fighter configuration, and that is only because the program managers didn’t want the F-15 to turn into a F-111 to quote one of them “Not a pound for air to ground.”. A number of foreign customers bought them F-15s with air to ground capability added.

            The F-15C only has a few minor differences from the F-15A and that is avionics, the ability to use conformal fuel tanks, and greater internal fuel capacity. The F-15D is simply a F-15C with two seats. And the F-15B is a F-15A with two seats. In fact without looking at the serial number it is impossible to tell the A/C and B/D apart from internal appearances alone.

            The F-15 could never land on a carry, the tail hook installed, and the landing gear are no where near robust enough to handle the abuse.

          • The Brigadier

            Sorry but you are wrong The 15C was the only pure fighter model. Most of those were transferred to the Idaho Air National Guard. The rest were mothballed at Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona.

          • Really dude? This isn’t stuff that is hard to confirm.

            It is true that all of the A/B were either mothballed or upgraded to the C/D standard. But the C was never the only pure fighter that the USAF bought. All models except the E are all pure fighters as delivered to the USAF. There are entire books on the F-15 program. And the program mantra is mentioned in other books like the biography of Col Boyd.

            And it is true that much of the F-15C/Ds were transferred to the ANG, but they aren’t all in Idaho. In fact not a single unit is in Idaho, IIRC the Idaho ANG unit is an A-10 unit.

      • Bryan

        And it will be a dismal failure. Like the A-10, a plane that has ZERO practical replacement coming any time soon, the F-16 and F-18 are MUCH better mud-movers than the F-35…

        • Really out of all the arguments you could make, strike performance is the area that the F-35 excels at.

          In a stealth configuration the F-35 can carry as much as a F-16 and F-18 setup for strike 50% further, with greater survivability against SEAD and anti-air assets. In a non-stealth configuration the F-35 can carry significantly more with an equal combat radius.

          In a stealth configuration if a F-35 has to engage in air to air combat, after the combat is done the F-35 can still continue the mission because it has access to nearly its entire performance envelope while carry the internal strike ordinance. And then you have super cruise, so it can get in and out faster.

          From a air to ground perspective the F-35 completely surpasses the aircraft it was designed to replace (the F-117, F-16, F-18, and the AV-8B). Anyone that believes otherwise has their heads in the sand. It is only when you factor in air to air capability is the F-35 really lacking, but it wasn’t designed for that role, that was meant to be the F-22’s role.

          And before you argue yes the F-35 in a stealth configuration only has two stations for air to ground ordinance, while the F-16 normally has 6 stations for the same weapons, but the F-16 in a normal PGM strike configuration has to give up most of the stations for fuel and sensor pods.

          • The Brigadier

            Unfortunately the Russian’s new long phase doppler radar can detect stealth aircraft. What we need is a fighter with no vertical surfaces and that is the next design challenge. The F-35’s performance has been less than promised and as a replacement general fighter it does not fit that role. As a forward area VTOL fighter it is much better than the Harrier, but that is it best role, not as a replacement for F-16 or F-18s.
            The Poles have taken their F-16s, stretched them, gave them some newer avionics and greater armament capability and renamed them the F-16 Vipers. The Russians have had to beef up their air defense around Moscow to counter them.

          • Lower frequency radars have always been able to detect stealth aircraft. The problem is that low frequency radars are horrible targeting radars for small maneuverable fighters. It took Serbians three missiles to shoot a F-117 was flying literally right over them (point blank range for SAMs) straight and level unaware it was being targeted (as the F-117 didn’t have radar warning receivers).

            Nor was the F-35 meant to be anywhere near the same level as the F-16 or F-18 in ACM performance. The contract placed a much heavier emphasis on stealth strike. With stealth aircraft you have to pick what is important, large weapon bays for strike missions, or larger wings for better ACM performance. The F-22 went with larger wings, the F-35 went for large weapons bays.

            As far as the F-16 Vipers, they’ve always been called Vipers as an unofficial nickname. But you are confusing the just announced F-16V, with the F-16 Block 52+, which is what the Polish Air Force bought. The only changes that brings with it is an AESA radar, and CFTs. Beyond that they aren’t much different from out Block 52 F-16s. And chances are our F-16s might get the AESA radar if the USAF decides to keep some to supplement the lack of F-22s.

  • Vhyrus

    How in the hell are they going to make a vehicle without vertical airfoils?! That’s like making a car without a steering wheel.

    • ActionPhysicalMan

      I think people are going to take your comment seriously, not as the joke intended. Let’s see:-)

      • Vhyrus

        Partially joking, but my understanding is that vertical surfaces are needed for high maneuverability at speed, which is something an air dominance fighter would need. It’s one thing to do it on a bomber but I’ll be very interested to see what they come up with for a fighter.

        • ActionPhysicalMan

          I am fairly ignorant of supersonic maneuverability issues but had assumed that yaw control could be handled with anything that could generate thrust or drag about the vertical axis. If the laser could be aimed close to 360 on the horizontal and vertical axis’s the aircraft also might not need much maneuverability. Don’t know much about such mirrors though either.

        • Alex

          I am pretty sure vertical stabs are mostly required for maneuverability(specifically controlling roll) at high AoA. That being said, I don’t know if a stab is necessary or just the most convenient. It is possible draglerons may be sufficient (but not as efficient).

        • mechamaster

          The vertical stabilizer is useful for yaw control but can be subtituted with computerized control of flaperon, deceleron or 3D-thrust vectoring.
          it’s not a problem for tailless fighter aircraft.

          The problem is the lower-higher airspeed advantage / disadvantage. The wing angle + wing-form factor is the vital factor here :
          * If the aircraft wing is more than 45° / more of “flying wings”, it has enought lift and maneuverability in subsonic speed, useful for attacker-tactical bomber role.
          But of course in supersonic speed, it has aerodynamic drag that limit it’s maximum speed.

          * If the aircraft wing is less than 45° / “tailless delta”, it is good for supersonic region, but has less lift in subsonic-region. Maybe with “computerized cross-coupling canard delta wing” like the X-36, it can be mitigated in both subsonic-supersonic region.

        • The Brigadier

          No vertical surfaces makes an aircraft very stealthy. Doppler aircraft radar however can see everything now including the best stealth fighters. The answer is to keep them unaware of your presence for as long as you can, and speed will be the next main dominant technology to overwhelm air defenses.

    • flyingburgers

      They already have one. B-2 bomber. Long story short, the plane pops up drag inducing surfaces to control yaw. It has very little natural yaw stability, it’s all artificial through fly-by-wire

      It also helps when you have centerline thrust. Most of the vertical stabilizer on a modern jet is there for engine failures. A helicopter crashed into and broke off half the vertical stabilizer off an A320 in Libya, and the pilots didn’t know until they landed.

      • ActionPhysicalMan

        10 to 1 says Vryrus is familiar with the Horten Brothers work.

      • The only problem is that for an ACM fighter that control surface might be needed, particular for slow speed maneuvering.

        • Uniform223

          ” for an ACM fighter that control surface might be needed, particular for slow speed maneuvering.”

          > actually at slower speeds and at higher AoAs, control surfaces become less effective. Conventional control surfaces require airflow over them in order to maneuver the aircraft.

          • Thrust vectoring eats through fuel, and can leave the aircraft in disadvantageous positions if their is more than one opponent.

            And yes the control surface effectiveness decreases as speed/air flow decreases, but this is countered by having larger control surfaces. For example on the F-35C due to the slower landing speeds for carrier landings they increased the control surface size, which gives the F-35C (like the F-18 has over the F-16) the advantage in slow speed maneuvering.

          • Uniform223

            “Thrust vectoring eats through fuel”

            > exactly how does an aircraft with thrust vector use more fuel then an aircraft that doesn’t? The F-22 has 18000lbs of internal fuel… roughly the same as an F-15C with 2 EFTs yet an F-22 can stretch its legs further than the F-15. The efficiency of the engine, aerodynamic shaping, and flight profile really makes the difference. NOT whether or not it has thrust vector controls…

            “and can leave the aircraft in disadvantageous positions if their is more than one opponent.”

            > that goes for ANY aircraft, thrust vector controls or not. The RULE for ALL aircraft is that they trade speed and energy for position. NO AIRCRAFT is exempted from this rule. The only difference is how different fighter aircraft spend their energy to get into a desired position. A good example of this is how an F-16 fights compared to the F/A-18…


            +A good Hornet pilot will take the fight downhill, try to get slow, and use his superior maneuverability to bleed the Viper down into his wheelhouse – a close-in knife fight at slow speed. If he tries to take the fight uphill or flat, the F-16’s superior rate and thrust to weight ratio will prevail.+


            (personally I think the people over at aussie-air-power/air power Australia are a bunch of hacks thinking they are experts. This is the only article I will ever give them credit on)


            + What is not widely known is that thrust-vectoring plays a big role in high speed, supersonic maneuvering. All aircraft experience a loss of control effectiveness at supersonic speeds. To generate the same maneuver supersonically as subsonically, the controls must be deflected further. This, in turn, results in a big increase in supersonic trim drag and a subsequent loss in acceleration and turn performance. The F-22 offsets this trim drag, not with the horizontal tails, which is the classic approach, but with the thrust vectoring. With a negligible change in forward thrust, the F-22 continues to have relatively low drag at supersonic maneuvering speed. . But drag is only part of the advantage gained from thrust vectoring. By using the thrust vector for pitch control during maneuvers the horizontal tails are free to be used to roll the airplane during the slow speed fight. This significantly increases roll performance and, in turn, point-and-shoot capability. This is one of the areas that really jumps out to us when we fly with the F-16 and F-15. The turn capability of the F-22 at high altitudes and high speeds is markedly superior to these older generation aircraft.+

            while the F-35A at the Paris airshow pretty much squashed all notions that the aircraft is not maneuverable, it isn’t in the same league as the F-22

    • neoritter

      Unstable aircraft make the best dogfighting air dominance aircraft. Pretty much all modern fighters are unstable in flight and require control systems to help keep them in flight.

  • dhdoyle

    Must be a slow news day for guns. Didn’t anybody put out a press release that could be copy/pasted?

  • Malthrak

    So ah, if the F35 and F22 programs are anything to go by, we’ll see this replacement go operational in 2050.

    • LCON

      dated for 2040’s so close.

  • Mr. Katt

    Gorgeous P51 in the photo . . . . waiting for some enterprising ‘genius’ to take the P51 frame, sweep the wings back @ 20 degrees, and stick a turbine engine behind the prop and present it as a low profile specialty platform.

    At least we know it’ll fly . . . .

  • Joel

    News: USAF General (Air Combat Command) wants a new fighter program to replace barely launched fighter program.

    • The Brigadier

      Let me repeat. The Russians now have two different vector thrust air superiority fighters that outperform the F-22 Raptor, our only vector thrust fighter. We are in catch up mode and our next model needs to be able to kill both of their fighters.

      • Likvid

        Thrust vectoring is mostly for show. F-15 is brick by today standards, yet with HMD and modern dogfight missiles it can perform in visual range as good as any 3D TVC aircraft.

        US succesfully developed TVC systems decades ago, they just never really needed them. Same for Russians, they developed TVC while ago, yet never equiped their production jets with it. Only Inds got their Su-30s in TVC configuration.
        F-22 got it’s TVC “just in case”, same as the PAK-FA (which is nowhere near to be combat ready), but it’s not super important thing to have and definitely not indicator of being advanced or “better”.
        PAK-FA is obviously technically more modern simply because F-22 is much older, but that doesn’t necesary mean it’s gonna be better in terms of combat performance.

        • The Brigadier

          Both both have a tighter turn radius and are faster. In a dog fight that is a combination for your death if you face them.

  • Brett baker

    With enough cruise missiles, you don’t need a lot of expensive meat platforms.

  • neoritter

    “The days of the Air Force‘s first stealth air superiority fighter, the F-22 Raptor, may already be numbered.”
    This is always the case for just about every military aircraft ever. The F-22 was initially designed around the 1980s. These things take time. So once they have the current fighter out the door they’re looking to start designing the next generation. Talk to anyone in the know on military aircraft, there’s nothing unique about this. It’s a testament to our design and engineering capabilities that we can design something 30 years ago and not have other countries overtake it.

    • Mystick

      No, they don’t take time. The development and production is drawn out over years and years by the loving, intimate embrace of industry and the military to provide the companies making these planes with guaranteed income over the span of decades.

      If they really wanted to, these projects could go from design to production in less than two years, just like any other manufacturing pursuit.

      • aka_mythos

        Where I once work we did a cost comparison of our internal development versus designing for the military… we could go concept to production in 3 months with the minimal number of required tests to pass safety standards… when we did designs for the Government it was a mountain of bureaucracy where the Government imposed 3 year development cycles just so they could schedule all the meetings and intervening layers of beauracracy… every little detail no matter how minor was scrutinized, with token changes to just their positions. We once had a 3 month wild goose chase to look into a material incompatiblity of a single component that after $10M of redesign and testing concluded with the realization that this wasn’t even in the realm of possibilities of being a problem since all the interfacing surfaces, parts, and about 30% of the complete assembly was this same material.

        This headache was for something small… and I can only imagine there have been lots of this kind of crap going on with parts of these aircraft that we’ve never heard about.

        • Brett baker

          Ben Rich in STEALTH, said a certain aircraft engine cost the government 19% more because every part had to be inspected, rather than have a warranty.

          • aka_mythos

            It’s probably more and that’s without considering the cost of maintaining a bureaucracy to verify those inspections and testing. We had 1 government official for every 3 engineers.

            We once had a component they wanted a long shelf life for and they needed it to meet extreme conditions… The only way all the conditions could be met was to over produce and simply screen down to the best 30% and the Government agreed to pay for the other 70% to get what they needed.

            Warranties are for things that are unlikely to fail, service contracts are for things that eventually will.

      • Seamus Bradley

        SO very true!!!!!

      • derpmaster

        The F-22 is an electronics and software development nightmare. The hardware has been redone probably 10 times as FPGA tech has advanced and the software is a continuous mess.

        The reason the plane took so long is they couldn’t settle on a avionics/computer suite and kept iterating as the technology advanced.

      • Cal S.

        That approach has yielded us some of aviation’s most horrendous aircraft failures…as well as some of its more brilliant stars.

        Having worked on some…er…projects in my time, it’s not really as easy as you think. If you want everything (more or less) right the first time, then you take the slow and steady wins the race approach. If you have to get something out the door in 18 months from concept to delivery and the consequences be damned, then you go with your approach. Accelerated aircraft design has always been the purview of war-time urgency. Hence why there were several design iterations of the same aircraft. Take the P-47 Thunderbolt. The last wartime design iteration was the ‘N’ model. While some of those designations denoted specialized roles and others existed only on paper, most of those 9 iterations were design and performance improvements. With today’s protracted development and design phases, the first P-47 off the assembly line would have at least been a P-47K.

        There is a benefit to taking more time to make sure you get it right the first time. Don’t forget all the added bureaucracy these days.

        • Mystick

          There is also a cost in having relevant technology fielded in a timely manner, in numbers that are operationally functional.

      • jonp

        SR-71 from complete 0 to flight test = 20 months
        This for an aircraft that had to be invented from the ground up and has never been matched.

        • Mystick

          Indeed. And it was state-of-the-art at the time for applied materials science, multifunction structural engineering, and propulsion technologies.

        • neoritter

          More like 30 months to 50 months for first flight test.

          • jonp

            Did I do the math wrong? I got it right off Lockheed’s website? Still, from complete scratch inventing everything down to the bolts that is pretty darn impressive

          • neoritter

            Maybe, or you’re placing the start time and first flight test off. What dates are you using?

            The first mock proposal of the SR-71 was in June of 1962, the contract was accepted in December of 1962. First flight was December of 1964. My 30, is coming from the first date to the first flight. The timeframe goes back further if you consider a) Lockheed had to submit a mock in June, which means they had done some development work prior to that; and b) the SR-71 is based off the work done to make the Lockheed A-12, which began work before even that since the A-12 had its first flight in April of ’62. The 50 was me doing some fudge math.

            Now if you take in the time they spent on the prototype aircraft of the A-12, then you go back further. In April of ’58 they began the Archangel program that arrived at the A-12 configuration. So if we want to be literal, from 0 to flight test, we’re talking ’58-’64. The wider timeframe is based on dates I’m taking directly from Lockheed.

          • jonp

            I see what you are saying. I was going from contract to flight test. Still, you have to admit it is one impressive feat of engineering to put that plane in the air so fast. Nothing could be done like that today

          • neoritter

            There’s definitely a lot of greatness to praise and emulate about that project, I think though if I look at the comparable F-22 time frame it’s not too far off. But when you’re looking at first flight test to first service mission/sortie; yeah it’s pretty impressive. I think that’s were the big difference in bureaucratic red tape comes in.

        • The Brigadier

          The Blackbird had one serious flaw that they never got a chance to fix because of the accelerated building problem. At around 80,000 feet at Mach 1.8 the engines flamed off at least half the time. The planes always went into a spin and the pilots were taught on simulators how to come out of it and fly straight and true and reignite the engines. They punched through Mach 1.8 in their climb and would cruise between 85,000 and 90,000 feet and at those rarefied heights they could accelerate to over Mach 3. If they had more time to fix the problem they probably would have, but after ten years the Blackbirds were mothballed for surveillance satellites.

      • The Brigadier

        BS! Aviation tech is the highest tech in our military. It takes an enormous amount of development in material sciences, propulsion, electronics etc etc.
        etc. After jets we are going to build space fighters and bombers as we create tech to move around our own solar system. Perhaps in another thirty years or even sooner, but in the meantime the Russians now have two new fighters that can kill our Raptors. Its always been the other way around.

        • Mystick

          ..and that paradigm shift is firmly rooted in the bureaucratic retardation of(as in the slowing of) the fielding of new technologies in fully functional platforms in a timely manner. It’s taking too long and it’s putting us at a huge disadvantage. It’s the same problem that doomed Germany in WWII(aside from poor strategic decisions)…

          They had a huge technological advantage, but it was largely unrealized as functional weapons of war because they couldn’t field the tech. They had better guns, better tanks, better force projection(in the form of the V-projects), and a case could be made that they would have had nukes first – had they fielded the other technologies to buy time. We won that one through pure attrition… we had the numbers on both fronts. It wasn’t until nearly the end when we started to have technological parity – and even then much of it wasn’t realized until after the war.

          • The Brigadier

            Germany’s problem wasn’t technology manufacturing. Germany was defeated because of a lack of fuel. If they had fuel, we would be speaking Deutsche now instead of English. During the Battle of the Bulge, Germany launched an attack against the allies with Panzer super tanks. They were the biggest tanks ever made and fielded 120mm cannons. The Panzer 4 and the Tiger tanks had 80mm guns. Our best tank that came out in 1945 was the Pershing and it had 90mm guns. The super tanks never made it to the front lines running out of fuel about 2/3’s of the way to the front. Panzer 4s and Tigers did make it and their main goal was to capture two giant American fuel dumps. With those the invasion of Europe would have been stopped. Be thankful the British Mosquito bombers blew up the Nazis last and only fuel dump in Czechoslovakia right before the Battle of the Bulge. Even Hitler knew when he got the news about that loss the Battle of the Bulge was like a Hail Mary pass in a football game. They almost never work, but it was the only thing the Germans had left. Learn more about history.

  • The Punisher

    “Penetrating Counter Air”

    Sounds like combat farting to me…

    • Bryan

      Gotta come up with a new, zesty way to say “fighter plane” to get the mega bucks from congress…

      • The Punisher

        Well whomever they get to add “zest” needs to look for a new line of work…

  • Mystick

    Great, another pork program that won’t see a working prototype until 2065, when it will be irrelevant to contemporary tech.

    • Peter Nissen

      Gee – being optimistic for 2065 aren’t we….

      • Mystick

        lol, indeed.

  • Seamus Bradley

    Translation: defense contractors would like another worthless boondoggle that will allow them to suck another hundred billion dollars out of the defense budget. The F22 was a total waste. Never, not even once, deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq, and now they are already talking about replacing it. F35 was designed to do nothing well but everything MEH, can’t climb, can’t run and can’t turn, but it has good radar (so put it in an F15 and be done with it)

    F22 and F35 are BOTH a waste of taxpayer money, diverts needed money from actual weapons systems that matter (trucks, rifles, artillery, helicopters and CAS aircraft) and allow defense contractors to get rich and the airfare to play with new shiny toys that can get bested by cheap (by comparison) Russian anti-aircraft missiles. What a Joke!

    • Bryan

      I get what you’re saying, but there was ZERO need to send them to the sandbox….they are “air superiority” fighters….with no opposition to go against in that theater.

  • Jeez Louise

    And yet America’s rivals don’t have any real working 5th generation aircraft. The Chinese J-20, like its Chinese pilots, are not combat proven and are probably not to the same level of performance and sophistication as the F-22. Russia’s jets are still 4th gen (no stealth) and their 5th gen aren’t operational yet. Such waste of money and resources from the military-industrial complex.

  • William M Durham

    When will we ever learn that no matter how much money is spent and wasted the air force will always say they need more and better aircraft and it goes on an on. Every Time we spend billions on the best in the world never to be shot down jet, along comes some little Russia with a missile that will knock down anything we paid through the nose for. F 15, F 16, F22, F35, next will be the F-45, none of which can out fly out maneuver or escape a little Russian missile, now ,ost shoulder fired and as deadly as they are cheap and easy to make. Not one single air force officer thinks we will ever have anything good enough, or expensive enough. Why not just spend all that money on non human tech and build plane with no pilots and lots of fire power, then when we lose them ,no loss of a 20 million dollar pilot or a 50 billion dollar plane and replacing unmanned planes would be cheaper. Let Trump do the negotiating on price and substance, he would not pay for BS that did not do what it was claimed to do, but that would upset the money train congress is ass hole deep in. Congressmen with their exemption from the insider trading laws keep their money where they know it is going to double but only Congressmen and their staffs can do this because they are so much better than us. Only in it for the money. Make any use of information gained theu their jobs or connections with manufactures illegal and you would see a cheaper product and a lot less old faces in Congress since the money and power would be gone and everything done above board. SADLY just a dream. America will be destroyed before it ever wake up and changes.

    • You know that is how competition works, we make a better weapons, they design one to counter it. This isn’t a game where everything is static.

      And the Russians also pay through the nose to counter our weapons. Those new missiles are each more expensive than the previous one, and cost more to develop. And they don’t just develop missiles, they develop aircraft too. The Mig 41, and Su-57 were both developed to counter the F-22. To counter the F-15 they also developed a number of aircraft.

    • rc_vic_kerman

      Yah, it really looks sad that the government keeps these programs going for so long at costs that appear to be to high but then I think of all of the people that make a living building these things that feed and cloth there family’s every need and builds there retirements to levels of comfort, etc. It only appears as such a wasteful tragedy to the simple minded!

      • Bryan

        That is NOT a justification for pissing away money. It’s corporate welfare…

        • The Brigadier

          It keeps your unthinking leftist self safe.

          • Bryan

            Lol…Libertarian. Thanks for showing what an unthinking person you are. A program so expensive that it can’t be stopped, so varied, with so many revisions that they can’t buy enough of them, so behind schedule due to problems that older, proven, still very lethal aircraft have to be kept longer than planned….but it keeps us “safe”. What a piss poor argument. “It’s ok to build a questionable aircraft for hundreds of billions that will be “obsolete” by the time it’s fully fielded and in need of replacement because by then, it’ll be time to buy a new one!

            Government should buy equipment like people buy cars, have a list of NEEDS that have to be met before the WANTS are looked at and let companies fund their own R+D, and open it to foreign companies for licensed production in the states. Make companies EARN the money, not extort it from the taxpayers because they are the only game in town. Funny how many conservatives shift their argument to support what they want in the moment, Conservatives, leftists….two sides of the same coin.

            Kinda like this bullshit NorK stuff….scare tactics to get SK, Japan and others to buy some U.S. made weapons…

    • The Brigadier

      We could simply destroy both Russia and China and take out Iran and North Korea at the same time. We have a weapon system that can do just that. Then we can keep the F-35 and F-22 until they can’t fly anymore. However we won’t do what is sensible to our survival so we have to keep our conventional weaponry up to par.

  • Sean

    So, another $1.5 trillion airplane?

    • Peter Nissen

      Plzzzzz – Just $1.5T – we get that figure higher once the red pin-striping and decal’s are applied…..

    • The Brigadier

      Trillion dollar airplane? Our entire GDP is around 12.5 trillion. I believe you mean 1.5 billion dollars.

      • Sean

        Actually, no. So far, the F-35 has cost more than $500 billion already. And it isn’t even remotely combat ready. The total cost over the the lifetime of the the plane is going to be $1.5 trillion. Or more.

        • The Brigadier

          We aren’t going to build anymore. We were supposed to have 100 F-22s and 400 F-35s. Obama cut the defense budget to the quick so we only built 20 Raptors and 100 F-35s. That is why we are bringing back mothballed F15s, F-16s and F18s. The decision has been made to build no more F-22s and F-35s and focus on a completely new air superiority fighter. That is what we are good at and if we can keep our enemies at bay long enough we will have one.

          • Sean

            Actually no. F-35 are scheduled to be produced until 2035,the United States intends to buy a total of 2,443 aircraft. With another 1000+ orders for other countries.

            Program cost
            trillion (through 2070 in then-year dollars), US$55.1B for RDT&E,
            $319.1B for procurement, $4.8B for MILCON, $1123.8B for operations &
            sustainment (2015 estimate)[8]

            Unit cost

            F-35A: $94.6M (low rate initial production lot 10 (LRIP 10) including F135 engine, full production in 2018 to be $85M)[9]

            F-35B: US$122.8M (LRIP 10 including engine)[9]

            F-35C: US$121.8M (LRIP 10 including engine)[9]

          • The Brigadier

            Obama cut both production numbers to what I posted. Sales to other countries don’t cost us anything except for the actual number we have built for out own service. That is why the services are scrambling to reactive the other older fighters. If we built so many they originally wanted we wouldn’t need the old fighters.

          • Sean

            Those ARE the cut numbers. I believe the original US order was more than 3500. Insane as it seems.

  • Meat

    Whenever you ever hear word of a “replacement” is needed, that’s code for it’s already been built or its being built now.

    • The Brigadier


  • Bierstadt54

    Yeah, stick with guns. This article is a bit cringy – PCA has been out for a couple years now and the requirements of being a long-range stealthy fighter with a new missile are hardly revolutionary. Now, if they are able to incorporate the real revolutionary bits like IR stealth and plane-killing lasers, then it will be worth getting excited about.

    • The Brigadier

      Rail guns will be here before cutting laser guns and they will fundamentally change aircraft and their tactics against ground pounders.

  • Jackie Knapp Talley

    Any guesses as to how long it will take to develop this so-called replacement?? I’m thinking at least 25 years before it’s operational.

    • The Brigadier

      Hopefully only five years if we’re both lucky and have the will to do it.

  • CalAnon

    “..and HERE IT IS, folks! The newest, bestest thing since they reintroduced sliced bread! The REPLACEMENT for the F-35!”

    In all honesty, I expected this from the get-go. We had heard that “some parts” of the F-22 project were compromised by China through a sub-contractor (which, it then makes sense that procurement was capped at 187 airframes for a project in the works since the 1990’s). We have heard chapter-and-verse preached by the Faithful that the F-35 is dog dirt for any and everything – that to even squint at it will cause asphyxiation and a loss of all Patriotism (yet, on the reverse, that just a Flight of F-35’s will shoot down the entire Russian Air Force).

    Just as the Navy Brass had to trick Congress into the Super Hornet, and the Marines made an end-run around the M4, this is no different. This is going to grow to effectively (though not on paper) replace the F-35 and F-22.

    Then, it’ll get a “ground attack upgrade” in another decade beyond its introduction.

    • The Brigadier

      You make it sound like a conspiracy between the Air Force and the aviation companies. It was Obama that cut the production to the bone that hurt the entire sector. The AF does have a round robin contract award system, because if any of them don’t get new contracts for anything, we lose another manufacturer and that list is very short as it is now. Since production development takes a decade or more its easy to see who is developing the best for every need – fighters, bombers, fuel tankers, Electronic Warfare Command ships, close air support, cargo both big and small, and passenger aircraft. Awards are based on the best for each category and some are multiple company awards. All get a piece of the pie, they stay in business and costs don’t skyrocket because of a lack of competition. If you think its bad now, just imagine how bad it would be if we lose anymore companies.

  • LazyReader

    If you had an airplane that would cost 350 million dollars you wouldn’t put it up in Afghanistan or Iraq or a .50 caliber rifle hit would destroy, that’s how vulnerable this plane is to enemy fire and why it reluctantly didn’t fly in combat til 2014. As the cost and development of the plane continued to skyrocket, Congress couldn’t stomach the thought of this program pushing over 65 Billion and pulled the plug on raptor production at 189 units, less than the 381 they wanted and far less than the 500 they planned (to replace every F-15). Both the F-22 and the F-35 are constant reminder in Lockheed Martin’s skill not in building quality airplane, but in milking the taxpayer in a program that can never be killed. Low end military people are trained lapdogs. China and Russia don’t care
    about the piddly size of our F-35
    fleet……….they can build MiG’s and Sukhoi’s for less than 100
    million dollars a piece vs 300 million per F-35. China is the cheap mass
    production capital……if they can crank out 10 fighters for the cost
    of a F-35, You cant shoot em down fast enough before they hit you.
    Expensive quality loses to numerical superiority……Germany had the
    best fighter of WWII, a jet powered, 450+ mph, cannon armed ME-262, but
    Hitler only had 200 of em and they lost to a fleet of tens of thousands
    of inferior propeller driven, machine gun armed P-47’s, P-38’s,
    P-51’s…………same in Vietnam a technologically superior jets losing
    to Korean era or cheap MiG-17’s, MiG-19, 21 fighters………The US
    lost 10,000 aircraft to anti aircraft guns, missiles, other fighters
    including over a 1,000 fighters to combat. North Vietnam, lost 150. The
    F-35 is slow (Mach 1.6), Sluggish (acceleration inferior to an F-16 by
    over 20 seconds), fat profile and heavy……..not things you want in a
    fighter. The F-35 has a number of components that require maintenance
    more frequently than desired. According to the Pentagon report, all
    variants have reliability issues with their avionics processors, landing
    gear tires, thermal management systems, ejection seat assemblies,
    cockpit display electronics unit, helmet display units, seat survival
    kits, igniter-spark in the turbine engines, and on-board oxygen
    generating systems. The unreliability of these systems increases
    maintenance time and costs on an already expensive plane. And 75% of the
    USAF’s budget will be inherited in the F-22 and F-35……once it’s
    existing fleet is decommissioned…’ll cease to be an effective
    airforce. The Air Force is now overhauling it’s F-16 fleet……to
    operate past 2037 CAUSE THEY HAVE NO FAITH THE F-35 is going to work.

    • Uniform223

    • mosinman

      The 262 was not the finest fighter aircraft of the war. It was one of the most advanced but not the finest. Early jets like the 262, meteor F3 and P-80 were cutting edge but had many problems and only had the advantage of speed over their more mature prop counterparts

      • The Brigadier

        The ME 262 engines had a Mean Time Between Failure of only ten hours. The were used to fly up fast and fierce and take out our B-17s that were decimating German industry. They also used a hellacious amount of fuel and couldn’t stay aloft very long. The P-51 Mustang and the P-47Juggernaut’s N model were able to shoot down a number of the Messerschmidts.

  • TDog

    Defense is fine, but concentrating on firearms is where you guys shine. Don’t spread yourselves too thin! 😀

  • mechamaster

    Maybe replace the lightweight F-35 & F-16 first is the most rational idea….
    Imagine something like X-36 and “Tailless & stealthy GRIPEN-NG”.
    ** Leave / simplified the F-35 program only for VTOL version, ditch the Air-Force / Carrier-Navy version

    For the requirement of : “a long ranged platform, able to escort B-2 Spirit and B-21 Raider stealth bombers on their missions”, I imagine that redesign and simplified the FB-22 airframe is the greatest option here.
    Added more fuel capacity, and extra weapon capacity. Slightly economical material but still high-tech like composite thermoplastic with carbon-fibre ( less titanium )

    * Make it tailless, or if desired for subsonic-speed mission like the attacker / tactical bomber role, the addition of “cross-coupling tailless canard delta wings” like the McDonnell Douglas X-36 ( albeit slightly sacrifice the stealth and added complexity, and potentialy aerodynamic drag if not designed properly )

  • 22winmag

    Firearms not Aviation Weekly!

  • AssKicker74

    This is a gun website, not airplane website.

    • The Brigadier

      This a better topic than the old 5.56 vs 7.62 argument. Or another post about the 400th manufacturer of grossly overpriced ARs.

  • Bryan

    Geee….I wonder how much this will cost and how many generals will get kickbacks for pushing the need for this? Can’t even get as many F-22s and F-35s as we THINK we need and they want to start a new multi billion dollar boondoggle program…

  • r h

    gotta love the censorship here…
    PC before 1st amendment i guess