The 5 secret warplanes that will make Russia and China tremble.

The 5 secret warplanes that will make Russia and China tremble.

The United States now has at least five new secret jets under construction, with a focus on fending off Chinese threats in the Pacific and Russian aggressiveness in Europe.

These programs range from next-generation air superiority fighters that will fly amidst a constellation of AI-powered support drones to scramjet-powered dual-cycle hypersonic attack drones very similar in concept to the long-awaited SR-72.

With new multi-static radars and more advanced integrated air defense systems continuing to appear, the US Air Force has stated that it believes that even the mighty F-22 Raptor will no longer be capable enough to survive in the airspace. Disputed as early as 2030. The Raptor is widely regarded as the stealthiest fighter to ever take to the skies, so the larger context to be drawn from concerns about its survivability is clear: America needs a series of new offensive and defensive fighter aircraft that you can trust to rule the skies over your opponents. These warplanes will also have to defend Western airspace against a sea of ​​new fighters and stealth bombers that Russia and China are hastily developing.

To deal with the combined threat of new air defenses and increasingly powerful enemy fighter aircraft, the US now has two different but deeply connected stealth bomber programs in some stage of development, along with two stealth fighter programs. Similarly connected. Perhaps the most secret of all these new programs is an effort by the Air Force Research Laboratory to develop fully functional double-cycle scramjet engine systems for a low-visibility hypersonic drone designed to fly three different types of missions of combat.

Here is the list of The 5 secret warplanes that will make Russia and China tremble.

1) NGAD: The US Air Force’s next air superiority fighter will come with its own wing drones.

The F-22 Raptor is considered the most capable air superiority fighter on the planet. Still, with fewer than 150 combat-ready aircraft in service, the predator of America’s skies is an endangered species. That’s where the US Air Force’s NGAD program comes in.

Unmanned and Unstoppable: NGAD's Quest to Redefine Fighter Aviation

Unlike other new fighter aircraft development initiatives, NGAD does not aim to develop a single aircraft but rather a whole family of systems that can span multiple airframes, including a group of support drones that will fly alongside the fighter.

This new family of systems will specialize in air combat with the stated goal of dominating enemy airspace. However, like all modern tactical aircraft, it will have multi-role capabilities that will also allow for air-to-ground combat.

NGAD is expected to further align with current aviation trends in cockpit automation and data fusion, taking many of the more monotonous or complex flight control functions out of the hands of pilots to allow them to focus in combat, especially while directing support drones to engage air or surface targets on behalf of the fighter.

Although not confirmed, the NGAD fighter is expected to take advantage of adaptive-cycle engines currently being developed to increase thrust, improve fuel economy, and make a dramatic leap in thermal management (and as a by-product of that, an increased energy output for advanced systems such as directed energy weapons).

In 2020, it was announced that a full-size technology demonstrator for the NGAD program had not only already flown but had even broken multiple records. While it’s important to note that a technology demonstrator is not the same as a flying prototype and may not even look like the new air dominance warplanes the US will eventually deploy, it appears the NGAD program is moving forward at full speed.

The selling price of the new US NGAD fighters will probably start at around $200 million per aircraft. The costs of its support drones are expected to vary wildly, from low-cost platforms like the Kratos XQ-58 Valkyrie, costing approximately $1.3 million per unit, to fully functional unmanned stealth fighters with a cost per unit of about $100 million, higher than the cost per unit of the F-35A.

It may seem like an excessive price, but keep in mind that the US F-22 Raptor, whose price increased due to the abrupt cancellation of the line, ended up costing about $337 million per aircraft (add the development costs to those of production) in 2011 dollars. That’s a whopping $442 million today.

2) B-21 Raider: The next US Air Force stealth bomber will slip under the radar, even capable of detecting stealth fighters.

Despite its sleek, futuristic aesthetic, Northrop Grumman’s B-2 Spirit stealth bomber has been in service for more than a quarter of a century. As China and Russia continue to develop their own B-2 competitors, the company is looking to extend America’s leadership in this field with the B-21 Raider, currently in development.

The 5 secret warplanes that will make Russia and China tremble.

The B-21 will be based largely on the successful B-2 flying wing design, which Northrop has long specialized in, but will be significantly smaller, with an expected payload of 30,000 pounds, rather than the impressive 60,000 of the B-2.

Despite its downsizing, the B-21 will still be capable of carrying nearly all of the nuclear and conventional munitions expected of American bomber fleets while also taking advantage of stealth technology that is claimed to be at least “two generations ahead” of the famously stealthy B-2.

Unlike stealth fighters, which are detectable (though not targetable) using low-frequency radar bands, the flying wing design used by the B-2 and B-21 is said to be extremely stealthy against all frequencies of radar. Radar. This makes these long-range bombers perfectly suited for strike operations in hotly contested airspace in the early days of the conflict. Suppose a war broke out with China, for example. In that case, it would almost certainly start with American stealth bomber fleets attacking anti-ship defenses off Chinese shores to allow aircraft carriers to get closer.

Today, there are at least six B-21 Raider airframes in some stage of production, and unlike most new warplanes built in American history, the Raider is expected to make its first landing flights. Test with all your mission systems already installed and operational. This will drastically reduce the time between the first flight and initial operational capability if all goes well.

The US Air Force set the unit price for its new stealth bomber at $550 million per airframe in 2010, which, adjusted for inflation, puts the Raider’s projected cost at about $729.25 million per unit. This number may make your eyes tremble, but the US is said to have spent as much as 2.

3) F/A-XX: The US Navy’s new stealth fighter will share systems with the NGAD and greatly increase its flight range

After decades of trying to force all US-developed fighters into carrier service, culminating in the acquisition nightmare that has been the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the US Navy’s next stealth fighter is being developed specifically to thrive on America’s flatbed aircraft.

It is being developed under the name F/A-XX, and the prefix “F/A” indicates that this new aircraft is expected to offer multi-role capabilities like all modern fighters and excel in air-to-air combat operations. Both the US Navy and Air Force have indicated that the stealth fighter to emerge from the F/A-XX project will share some common systems with the NGAD program, allowing this new fighter to be brought into service more quickly.

The 5 secret warplanes that will make Russia and China tremble.

This will also mean that the Navy’s next fighter will benefit from the same modular software and hardware architecture intended to enable frequent, low-cost upgrades to these aircraft as the technology around them matures.

Aside from the necessary increase in stealth and data fusion capabilities that the US prioritizes in new fighter programs, the Navy’s F/A-XX will also have to provide a huge increase in fuel range over the Super Hornets and the F-35C currently operating at be.

China’s area denial bubble, or the Pacific area within the range of China’s advanced hypersonic anti-ship missiles like the DF-ZF, now extends more than 1,000 miles from China’s shores, while China’s fighter jets Armed like the F/A-18E and F- 35C they have a combat radius of only about 650 miles. This means that US aircraft carriers cannot get close enough to China to conduct combat sorties without risking being sunk.

The F/A-XX is expected to address this capability gap by taking advantage of larger fuel reserves and the aforementioned more efficient adaptive-cycle engines likely to go into NGAD while benefiting from mid-air refueling provided by aircraft Carrier-based MQ-29 unmanned drones. The Navy has not released cost estimates for this fighter yet, but its price is likely to be comparable to that of the NGAD.

4) Wingman Bomber: The US Air Force B-21 Raider will fly an extremely advanced unmanned stealth bomber.

During a speech at the Air Force Association War Symposium 2022 earlier this year, Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall revealed that the United States is exploring the idea of ​​an unmanned stealth bomber platform that could fly missions ahead of the B-21 Raider with the optional crew to expand America’s deep-penetration strike capabilities into highly contested airspace.

This new bomber platform is expected to have a “comparable range” to the new world-range bomber, with payload capabilities to be largely determined by price… currently estimated to be somewhere near the incredible figure of 300 million dollars or more per drone.

The 5 secret warplanes that will make Russia and China tremble.

In an unclassified information request the Air Force has released to its industrial partners, this new unmanned stealth bomber is called for to have at least a 4,000-pound payload capacity and a combat radius of 1,500 miles. However, as Steve Trimble of Aviation Week has pointed out, it seems likely that this aircraft will need to be able to match the range of the B-21 to fulfill its purpose as a long-duration mission support medium.

A substantially cheaper unmanned stealth bomber that can fly ahead of the B-21 Raider could offer enormous strategic value. Raider crews could use these unmanned bombers to attack anti-ship weapons that are too well-defended to risk attacking manned aircraft, or they could attack anti-aircraft defense systems to allow a safer route to the target. Of course, at half the cost of a B-21, we’re still talking about an unmanned stealth bomber that costs as much as three or more F-35s. However, the F-35 would most likely not be able to hit those targets to begin with, while these new unmanned stealth bombers will be able to.

With the B-21 expected to replace both the B-2 Spirit and B-1B Lancer, it makes sense for the United States to consider deploying less expensive unmanned stealth bombers to complement its next-generation bomber fleets. This program is still in the early stages of development, and Air Force officers are evaluating which systems from the B-21 should be migrated to the stealthy drone and which should not occur due to cost constraints.

5) Mayhem: The US Air Force’s top-secret effort to develop a hypersonic drone could finally make the SR-72 a reality.

Hidden in the long list of hypersonic weapons programs receiving funding from Pentagon coffers, the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Mayhem Program appears to be developing a double-cycle scramjet propulsion system for more than just missiles. Originally, the program aimed to develop larger scramjet propulsion systems capable of propelling larger payloads over greater distances than “existing systems.”

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Although Mayhem is often referred to as a missile program, closer examination of the requests for information (ROIs) issued by the branch suggests that Mayhem is more geared toward launching a reusable, unmanned hypersonic platform capable of carrying carry out two different specific mission sets: strike operations and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions.

As Joseph Trevithick pointed out in The War Zone late last year, Mayhem’s formal name recently changed from “Expendable Hypersonic Multi-Mission Air-Breathing Demonstrator” to “Hypersonic Multi-mission ISR and Strike,” and it has also been referenced to the project as to “Multi-Mission Cruiser.” This suggests that we are not talking about a missile fired at a target and forgotten.

The deletion of the word “expendable” along with the moniker “multi-mission” suggest that Mayhem intends to deploy a reusable, autonomous platform that takes advantage of what will likely be early dual-mode hypersonic or turbine-based combined cycle (TBCC) propulsion systems of the world.

In other words, Mayhem aims to have a turbine-based scramjet system that can operate at all airspeeds, from subsonic to supersonic to hypersonic. Current ramjet and scramjet systems do not work reliably until they are moving at extremely high speeds, which is currently achieved using rockets that are fired before the propulsion systems become operational.

This concept is tantalizingly similar to the long-running discussion about Lockheed Martin’s planned successor to the Mach 3.5-capable SR-71 Blackbird, known as the SR-72. As far back as 2018, Lockheed Vice President Jack O’Banion seemed to indicate that an SR-72 demonstrator might have already flown, clearly stating that a full-size propulsion system had already been built and tested. “The aircraft is also agile at hypersonic speeds,” O’Banion told a crowd at the 2018 SciTech Forum, “with reliable engine starts.”

A hypersonic attack and ISR platform would have far-reaching strategic ramifications: from the ability to deliver less expensive non-hypersonic munitions to targets at speeds greater than Mach 5 to rapid intelligence gathering even in places where satellite coverage is compromised. While the world worries about who is launching new hypersonic missiles, it seems the Air Force is secretly planning to win the hypersonic race before the rest of the world even knows it has started.

Alex Hollings