UAVs could start replacing manned fighters in mid-2020: USAF

UAVs could start replacing manned fighters in mid-2020: USAF – link

Source: Flight Global

Article Headlines

  • As older Lockheed Martin F-16s approach the end of their service life in five to eight years, the US Air Force (USAF) may consider replacing the manned fighters with attritable UAVs
  • The service wants to rethink the way it does aerial combat using new technology, including attritable UAVs, says General James Michael Holmes, head of Air Combat Command, on 27 February at the Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida
  • Instead of laying out a traditional acquisition plan centered around buying manned combat aircraft, Holmes says he wants the service to think more conceptually
  • The first opportunity to add attritable aircraft to the USAF inventory could come with the retirement of F-16 Block 25 and Block 30 aircraft in the mid-2020s
  • After those fighters, the F-16 Block 40 and Block 50, which have substantial airframe life remaining, but need modernization upgrades, could be on the chopping block
  • “The idea of what is a fighter, the equation and kind of the math that we use for a fighter still works pretty well in the European environment. The range and payload and distance problem is still a pretty effective solution,” he says. “It’s not as effective as solution in the Pacific because of the great distances.”
  • The Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II stealth fighter has been criticized for having a limited combat range of 600 nm (1110 km), insufficient to avoid a surprise hit by China’s long-range ballistic and cruise missiles while parked at an air base in the western Pacific Ocean
  • In part to solve that limitation, the Air Force Research Laboratory and Kratos Defense Security Solutions have been developing the XQ-58A Valkyrie, a low-cost UAV with a 1,500 nm combat radius
  • The attritable aircraft could be flown independently or as a loyal wingman alongside manned aircraft

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