It may yet be a decade or two before the U.S. has an appetite for another “generation” increment for its fighters, but Boeing and Northrop Grumman are hungry now. Northrop is
touting its new design teams dedicated to generating capabilities for the Navy and Air Forces future wish lists. The little information about their initial efforts indicate that it is oddly close to Boeing’s own requirements appetizer, which sported a flying wing design and preceded Northrop’s announcement by more than a year.
The flying wing focus may be a product of these airframes being quite similar to existing development work done for stealth fighter UAV programs, which have featured the more stealthy wing designs.
After seeing how chummy the service branches became in creating a joint strike fighter, Northrop is bowing to current service desires and employing two independent teams to ensure that both the Navy and Air Force can dream big without design compromises.
Some F/A-XX work was generated back in April 2012, when the Navy asked contractors for information about F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Growler replacements – an early indication that the F-35 was not going to be all things to all services.
One interesting feature, at least in Boeing’s theoretical offering, is that the fighter can be flown by wire – still a politically charged feature in several ways. Pilots have been skeptical of unmanned fighters, such as the UCAS-D/N-UCAS/UCLASS program. The subsequent UCLASS project has been watered down by the Navy, with its role limited to surveillance type activities it is thought in order to preserve the more kinetic jobs for manned aircraft like the F/A-XX.