Several countries, including the USA, China, the UK, Russia, Italy, Sweden, Japan, Germany, Spain, and France, have declared the development of sixth-generation aircraft. We have been hearing about the 6th-generation fighter jets for quite some time now.
So where are the sixth Generation Fighter Jets? Are they going to fly soon? Let’s find out.
Global Combat Air Program (GCAP)
One notable program is the Global Combat Air Program (GCAP), which merges BAE Systems Tempest and Mitsubishi F-X. The goal of GCAP is to replace the Eurofighter Typhoon used by the Royal Air Force and the Italian Air Force, as well as the Mitsubishi F-2 used by the Japan Air Self-Defense Force.
On December 9, 2022, Japan, the UK, and Italy announced the merger. In Japan, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries will serve as the prime contractor, with IHI Corporation handling the engines and Mitsubishi Electric responsible for the electronics.
BAE Systems will oversee the aircraft in the UK, Rolls-Royce will handle the engines, and Leonardo UK will manage the electronics.
Italy’s Leonardo S.p.A., Avio Aero, and MBDA will also participate in the development, including missile development. Detailed development and cost-sharing arrangements for each company are expected to be clarified by around 2024. Production is scheduled to commence around 2030, with the first aircraft expected to be deployed in 2035.
The Future Combat Air System (FCAS)
The Future Combat Air System (FCAS) is a European combat system of systems. On December 16, 2022, Dassault Aviation, Airbus, Indra, EUMET, and their industrial partners were awarded a €3.2 billion contract by the French General Directorate for Armament for the FCAS Demonstrator Phase 1B.
This contract covers the development of the FCAS demonstrator and its components for approximately three and a half years.
The FCAS will include a Next-Generation Weapon System (NGWS) and other air assets for the future operational battlespace. The NGWS will consist of remote carrier vehicles and a New Generation Fighter, a sixth-generation jet fighter.
This new fighter is expected to replace France’s Rafales, Germany’s Typhoons, and Spain’s EF-18 Hornets by around 2040. A test flight of the demonstrator is anticipated to take place around 2027, with the aircraft entering service by 2040.
China’s military aviation industry has shared concept art on social media for a future stealth fighter known as J-28. While these designs are not finalized, China’s sixth-generation stealth fighter will likely be tailless, similar to America’s Next Generation Air Dominance stealth fighter.
According to military aviation expert Andreas Rupprecht, credible rumors suggest that the fighter could enter service around 2035, with a possible first flight as early as 2026-2028.
The Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) released a video on January 31, 2023, showcasing CGI concept art of the hypothetical fighter, featuring twin-engine jet fighters with low-reflective diamond-shaped wings and a blended-wing body configuration resembling Northrop Grumman’s YF-23 Black Widow demonstrator fighter.
Russia’s MIG 41
The Moscow-based aerospace company, Mikoyan (MiG), has developed the MiG-41 (PAK DP) stealth aircraft since 2013. This sixth-generation stealth interceptor is intended to succeed the Soviet MiG-31 interceptor, also known as the “Foxhound.” The PAK DP is part of the Prospective Air Complex (PAK DA) program.
According to reports, the PAK DP’s entry into service is expected around 2025, with the first flight anticipated by 2025 and service entry by 2028. The prototype construction will be completed by 2023, followed by ground tests and test flights. It remains uncertain whether the deadlines will be met.
The PAK DP will be equipped with anti-satellite missiles. The MiG-41 is considered a notable advancement compared to the Su-57 fighters. It shares similarities in concept with the upcoming sixth-generation fighter jet being developed by the United States Air Force under their Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program.
The United States Navy’s Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) has revealed the first rendering of the potential F/A-XX carrier-based fighter aircraft. The document also highlights the hypothetical distinctions between the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the sixth-generation air superiority fighter.
The F/A-XX image includes canards and “ruddervator” tailplanes, similar to those seen on the YF-23 technology demonstration aircraft. This depiction notably differs from previous F/A-XX illustrations, which depicted tailless or Dorito-shaped designs.
The United States Air Force is also pursuing the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program, focusing on developing their own sixth-generation fighter jet.
The next-generation fighter platform, known as NGAD, is currently in the design phase and has not yet entered the engineering, production, and development stages.
NGAD aims to develop key technologies in areas such as propulsion, stealth, advanced weapons, digital design, and thermal management of the aircraft’s signature.
The program has not yet undergone the Milestone B review process, which marks the official start of an acquisition program after the technology maturation phase. This indicates that NGAD is still in the early stages of design and system integration; manufacturing processes and other specific details must be addressed before production begins.
Considering that NGAD is still in the design phase and has not started the engineering, manufacturing, and development (EMD) phase, it is unlikely that initial operating capability will be achieved before the decade’s end.
Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall has not disclosed the price of each NGAD plane, but it is expected to be in the hundreds of millions, making it an expensive aircraft.