US prods industry for F-22 fighter successor ideas

* Air Force wants new manned fighter ready in about 2030

* Eyes power to counter missiles, directed energy weapons

* “Anti-access/area-denial” capability hints at China

By Jim Wolf

WASHINGTON, Nov 5 (BestGrowthStock) – The U.S. Air Force has begun
peering into the far blue yonder for a futuristic aircraft to
replace Lockheed Martin Corp’s (LMT.N: ) F-22 fighter, a move
that has cheered the aerospace industry.

The Air Force in a written solicitation this week sought
concepts for a next-generation tactical aircraft to begin
operating in roughly 2030, apparently with a pilot aboard.

Experts cast such a system as a would-be successor to the
radar-evading F-22 Raptor, the top U.S. air superiority
fighter. The single-seat, twin-engine F-22 was designed as a
response to Soviet combat aircraft in the 1980s and is barred
by law from export to protect its “stealth” technology.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates persuaded Congress to cap
its production at 187 last year as Lockheed’s F-35 Joint Strike
Fighter, which is designed to be less costly, entered early
production.

The next-generation system will have to counter foes
equipped for electronic attack with sophisticated air defenses,
passive detection, integrated self-protection, directed energy
weapons and cyber attack capabilities, the Air Force Materiel
Command said in its notice to industry dated Nov. 3.

The new aircraft must be able to operate in the
“anti-access/area-denial environment that will exist in the
2030-2050 timeframe,” the solicitation said, using Pentagon
jargon often applied to China’s growing military clout.

The primary mission, it said, would be offensive and
defensive “counterair” — destroying or neutralizing an enemy’s
ability to control the skies. The Air Force also wants to
incorporate missile defense, air interdiction and close air
support of ground forces, according to the “capability request
for information.”

“This is the first step in figuring out what the
specifications might be for the next generation of U.S.
fighters,” said Jeremiah Gertler, an expert on U.S. military
aviation at the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

The Aerospace Industries Association, the industry’s chief
trade and lobbying group, welcomed the feeler as critical to
keeping a U.S. technology edge at a time that no new manned
warplanes are in design.

“Unless new manned aerospace programs start soon, America’s
capability to design and build future manned combat aircraft
will atrophy and threaten the aerospace technological
superiority that has long been the hallmark of our national
security,” Fred Downey, the group’s vice president for national
security, said in an emailed reply to Reuters.

Embarking on an analysis for a new tactical aircraft “can’t
come too soon,” he added.

But Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group aerospace
consultancy said Pentagon budget pressures meant there would
not be a “significant stream of (research and development) cash
for a next-generation aircraft for another ten years, at
least.”

Still, such a project suggests that Boeing Co (BA.N: ), the
Pentagon’s No. 2 supplier after Lockheed, might be able to stay
in the fighter business long enough to compete for it, he said,
assuming exports can keep its fighter know-how alive as the
U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps buy F-35s in large
numbers.

“In short, they (Boeing) might not be forced to abandon
this market,” Aboulafia said in an email.

The Air Force in its wish list for the futuristic warplane
cited greater reach, persistence, survivability, situational
awareness, weapons effects and “human-system integration.”

Responses to the request are due by Dec. 17 and interested
parties “are encouraged to submit cost data if available,” said
the request on FedBizOpps.gov, a clearinghouse for federal
contracting opportunities.
(Editing by Gary Hill)

US prods industry for F-22 fighter successor ideas