The U.S. Air Force is planning to deploy a “sixth-generation” fighter in 2030. Prototypes of this aircraft, never before seen by the public, have already flown in secret. There is not a lot the public knows about the U.S. Air Force’s new fighter jet.
But one thing’s for sure: technologists and engineers at Raytheon Intelligence & Space are working on the very same kinds of systems they believe will bring the kind of technical superiority the military wants its new plane to deliver. They are not designing the aircraft. They are designing systems (sensors, communications, electronic warfare and more) that they hope will one day provide overwhelming technical superiority over enemies in the air.
Our experts have six bold predictions for sixth-generation fighters:
1. Future fighters will have one system for everything
Sixth-generation fighters could have a piece of gear that does multiple jobs, replacing different systems typically seen on today’s aircraft. This hardware would include adaptable software that changes between tasks in mere nanoseconds.
“You no longer have a radar, no longer have electronic warfare, no longer have a radio,” said Jason “Tex” Clark, director for Advanced Mission Systems at RI&S. “Instead, you have multifunction hardware that does it all and can be repurposed very quickly – switching between functions so quickly it seems instantaneous.”
2. Fighters will become “flying data centers”
The computer processing power for sixth-gen fighters will reach staggering levels, taking the sophisticated mission computers aboard today’s aircraft and essentially turning the planes into flying data centers.
“Next-generation multifunction systems will produce orders of magnitude more data than previous systems,” said Tomek Rys, business development director for Communications & Airspace Management Systems at RI&S. “On-board compute clusters composed of high-performance, ruggedized processors will effectively put a data center in the sky. These systems will leverage artificial intelligence to turn data into information in real time. The result will be faster decision making.”
3. AI will be the wingman of the future
Pilots for futuristic sixth-gen fighters could have help from nearby planes flown autonomously through a concept known as “manned-unmanned teaming” or MUM-T.
That’s right: AI wingmen.
“We’re realizing underlying artificial intelligence and machine learning can support the idea of a manned aircraft commanding an unmanned team,” Clark said. “Today, a flight lead can command four or eight other manned aircraft and expect them to go out and complete the mission on their own. Autonomous behaviors could allow for similar mission-level tasking for aircraft that are not necessarily controlled by a human.”