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Saturday, February 18, 2012

American Sixth Generation Fighter Aircraft. Manned?! quite likely

Degree of autonomy of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle [UAV]

Till around a few years back, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lightning II was widely being touted as the last manned fighter aircraft America would develop. Subsequent developments would solely focus on unmanned aerial vehicles capable of performing the same role. Thus, going through todays stack of news, I was somewhat taken by surprise by this quote attributed to George Standridge, Vice-President, Lockheed Martin Aeronautic, Business Development, on the sidelines of the ongoing Singapore Airshow,


Lockheed’s Advanced Development Programs or “Skunk Works” is conducting research and development on a sixth-generation fighter, Standridge said. The next generation could be manned or unmanned, depending on the capabilities, he said. Technology advancements could include high Mach to hypersonic speed, multispectral stealth, self-healing structures and systems, and ubiquitous situational awareness.

"We always have Skunk Works looking into the future,” he said. “It should be a significant leap in capability."


Coming from Standridge, the statement sure does carry a lot of weight. Does it attribute to any difficulties currently being faced by designers in developing an umanned system whose reliability & capability matches that offered by their manned counterparts? Was this something that they hadn't foreseen a few years back? Much questions raised with this statement. Some were attributing the recent capture of the American RQ-170 Sentinel spy drone by Iran to a system failure that lead to its crash on its own in Iranian territory. While the challenges faced in the development of unmanned vehicles today, comparable to the manned variants, are substantial, but the time by which the F-35, whose first squadron is only just being formed, needs to be retired, too is much farther down the line. Need to watch out for further developments on this front.


Earlier: UCAV: How to wage a war from your living room

table prepared referring to: Metrics, Schmetrics! How The Heck Do You Determine A UAV’s Autonomy Anyway? [PDF]