CNO: Next-Generation Navy Fighter Might Not Need Stealth

MSF13-0082The Chief of Naval Operations said the next-generation Navy fighter being developed to replace the F/A-18 may be less stealthy than expected, shedding a bit of new detail upon a topic not discussed much by Navy developers.

“You know that stealth may be over-rated,” Greenert said during a speed at the Office of Naval Research Naval Future Force Science and Technology Expo, Washington D.C. “I don’t want to necessarily say that it’s over but let’s face it, if something moves fast through the air and disrupts molecules in the air and puts out heat – I don’t care how cool the engine can be – it’s going to be detectable.”

There has been some discussion among industry experts and analysts suggesting that state-of-the-art stealth technology may be less effective against increasingly modern, next-generation air defenses. Newer technologies for air defenses allow them to detect on multiple frequency bands, network to one another through faster processing speeds and track approaching aircraft at further and further distances.

The top Naval officer was referring to the ongoing conceptual effort called F/A-XX to begin conversations, plans and preparations for what a new, sixth-generation carrier-launched fighter might need to look like, Navy officials have told

One analyst said if Navy F/A-XX developers seek to engineer a sixth-generation aircraft, they will likely explore a range of next-generation technologies such as maximum sensor connectivity, super cruise ability and an aircraft with electronically configured “smart skins.”

Maximum connectivity would mean massively increased communications and sensor technology such as having an ability to achieve real-time connectivity with satellites, other aircraft and anything that could provide relevant battlefield information, said Richard Aboulafia, vice-president of analysis at the Teal Group, a Va.-based consultancy.

Greenert also said the new aircraft may also need to develop new weapons for future threats, according to a report by the U.S. Naval Institute.

“It has to have an ability to carry a payload such that it can deploy a spectrum of weapons. It has to be able to acquire access probably by suppressing enemy air defenses,” Greenert added. “Today it’s radar but it might be something more in the future.”

Also, the next-generation F/A-XX aircraft may not need to travel at high speeds, the CNO added.

“I don’t think it’s going to be super-duper fast, because you can’t outrun missiles,” he said.

The new aircraft will also have the technological capability to be unmanned.

“The weight that we put on an aircraft due to the pilot is kind of extraordinary. You can take that off and put sensors on there instead,” Greenert explained.

— Kris Osborn can be reached at

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.
  • Lance

    Agree with the admiral Stealth is overrated and with newer Russian and Chinese radar technology, Stealth capabilities may become obsolete.

    Last thing we need is it to become a drone. Another attempt to be P.C. and sacrifice capability for feel good measures like no pilot. Skynet on the way???

  • Blake

    Am i the only one who thinks that those reasons weren’t thought through?

    Of course, anything in the air can be detected; But the idea is to make the detections so insignificant that an air defense system doesn’t thing twice about it.

    Of course, you can’t outrun missiles, yet. But, why would that justify having a slow aircraft? History has shown time and time again that speed is an important aspect of carrying out military operations. Do you want a slow naval vessel just because it can’t outrun a torpedo?

    I guess that I don’t see why you would want to stop making progress on refining new technologies that can make quiet a difference; Unless it was a money issue, then I can that.

  • Trevor Pyle

    So basically he’s saying that he wants something in cabability between an A-7 and an F-18.

    With updated sensor fusion capabilities and other technologies from the F-35 program. Could this be seen as a sign that the F-35 may end of being a technology development and demonstration program only?

    • Barry

      Hope so!

  • sambo

    Might as well just push towards swarm tech.

  • Franklin

    The Admiral knows what he is talking about, and it’s pretty clear what he is saying. Big budget aircraft with a low return on advanced capabilities is crippling fleet priorities. Advanced weaponry doesn’t need platform penetration. Super-cruise gives you speed and range. The rest is star wars. Uclass is a joke if it doesn’t live up to its cost effective promise, and it can always be built into a manned platform as backup or for high risk missions. We need bang for buck, not flush and forget. If the economy starts peaking again then things will be different.

  • Highguard

    The Navy maybe better rethink this one. Ergo, the ability to detect an A/C does not equal the ability to target an A/C. Stealth will be relevant until at least 2040 when speed, yes speed, might the antidote for survivability vs stealth. Navy A/C may not have been able to outrun missiles, but the SR-71 out ran missiles every day in the 60s and 70s. A hypersonic 6th Gen Ftr could easily out-maneuver a supersonic interceptor….with the slightest jink to the left or the right. A hypersonic interceptor, well, that’s a different story…..

  • NathanS

    I think an aircraft without technologies like full-sphere IRST and sensor-fusion, and networking would be a mistake. Having greater situation awareness than your opponent is a huge advantage; it doesn’t matter how fast your aircraft can go or how tight it turns if you’re not even aware your opponent is there. If anything it vindicates these technologies that the F-22 and F-35 have brought to the table.

    I disagree that stealth is no longer important. I do agree that it’s no longer going to be the “game changer” it currently is, as improvements to technologies like IRST do mitigate it. However, without it any 3rd world country with a hand-me-down Soviet S200 or S300 would be a credible threat to your aircraft. So rather it’s your right-of-entry onto the battlefield. I’m also sceptical about the value of low-band radar being able to pick up stealth aircraft; they may be able to point you in the general direction of a stealth aircraft, but they are also very large, difficult to conceal, hard to move, and light up like a Christmas tree when you turn them on, and are a primary target when the first wave of cruise missiles comes through.

    Ironically, if you want to defeat IRST, you just need to follow conventional advice from the second-world war. Attack from the sun (as the sun can mask your IR signature). Of course this means you have to have to be able to see your opponent first to get the element of surprise.

    • isaac

      Excellent point mirrors positioned on satellite I believe could also make a difference confuse them give give them fake heat signatures and than also wouldn’t a large barrage of flares blind them of coarse that tactic would only work in an active war… it seems this system would be as flawed as IR tracking missles. I’m no professional though just my observation

    • Franklin

      NathenS you are talking about senors and software that can be built into any platform, and I agree on their importance, but stealth is too expensive to build and maintain. If we want to penetrate we have growlers that have not been countered as far as I can see. I know that many people mock the penny pinchers, but this is the way to win wars. once you have cleared the defenses then low cost CAS can wipe out the rest. Go Navy!!

      • NathanS

        If it’s trivial to retrofit full sphere sensors onto existing aircraft, then I would have thought that they would have already done so. To my knowledge the F-35 is the first aircraft with full sphere IRST, and if reports are to be believed, there’s still hurdles to overcome.

        I think the Growler (like the Rhino) is a fine aircraft, and EW superiority is vitally important in coming decades. But a Growler can’t remain hidden, and it is not invulnerable by any means – even today.

        I do not believe EW and stealth are mutually exclusive; the required jamming power to overcome radar is directly proportional to RCS of the aircraft that needs to avoid lock. So a very low observable aircraft only needs 1/1000 of the power to jam a radar to deny lock compared to a normal aircraft. And a stealthy aircraft can also get a lot closer to a target before EW is needed. This means it doesn’t need to “broadcast” so much when using EW. And given that the next generation of EW will be directional (instead of the current omni-directional), it may not give away its location at all.

        • Franklin

          When you have a go for broke mentality that surrounds the F35 you don’t even whisper backwards compatibility. I am talking about a new aircraft that can get the job done cost effectively. Just because you don’t empty the bank for stealth doesn’t mean your not building for cost effective low observable. I like the F35, but I am horrified at the price, and payload wise I really don’t see it as a cost effective CAS. Don’t forget that uclass is suppose to deal with penetration, but the only thing I have heard on cost is a pin drop with a big clang! America invented mass production with economies of scale and thats our strong point. We need to stop building Rolls Royces that we can’t afford.

  • BlackOwl18E

    Been saying it for a while. The CNO finally said it officially. Stealth technology as it exists now is perishable and spending an obscene amount of money on it like the Air Force and Marine Corps have is a really bad investment. The future of air power is payload over platforms.

    This is why the Navy built enough Super Hornets and Growlers so that it did not matter however the JSF program turned out to be. Meanwhile the USAF and USMC are entirely dependent on a program that has consumed their entire budget for tactical air power and delivered nothing in return, while only having the best possible outcome be a disgustingly expensive, yet small force of aircraft that rely on technology which is slowly eroding away against advancing enemy sensors.

  • ohwilleke

    One reason that speed and stealth are less important is that precision munitions make it much less important to get close to the target when bombing it. If one can stay high enough and far enough away, one can stay out of range of ground based anti-aircraft systems, and air superiority is the norm for a long proportion of most modern military campaigns involving the U.S.

    The other reason that speed and stealth are less important, is that when they matter, armed UAVs are probably better suited for the job, humans in the plane put a limit on the G-forces that the plane can survive and make the plane that needs to be hidden larger and harder to hide. And, UAVs are about to become a standard part of every carrier’s aircraft fleet.

  • balais

    This is telling.

    You cannot have every airframe or a majority of airframes, as stealth, simply because it is not affordable to do so.

    Stealth aircraft are niche specific technologies, not “baselines” for future aircraft.

    • blight_

      They could put JSF technology into a normal airframe and it would still cost out the wazoo. “Stealth” is being used to launder the development costs.

    • blight_

      The cost-driver for JSF isn’t the low RCS design or the materials: both have been worked out already. It’s all the other peas in the pod.

      Stealth itself is no longer particularly costly in terms of design. If you re-design new aircraft with a low-RCS philosophy using present-day avionics you will have a reasonably priced aircraft. However the USAF is designing for decades worth of superiority down the line…which is ridiculously expensive.

      Hitler was probably designing for “decades of superiority” with the King Tiger. But within a decade the King Tiger was slower, less reliable and weaker than the next generation of post-WW2 MBT’s. Futureproofing can be astronomically expensive because it relies on immature technologies that have to be developed to a point of feasibility (if you want it done right).

      • balais

        Im tired of repeating this

        Stealth is a major contributor to the expenses. End of story.

        Producing it is expensive as well as maintaining it.

        Im not arguing against the expense of the avionics, but to deny that stealth is a contributor to the expense is being short sighted.

        “Stealth itself is no longer particularly costly in terms of design”

        The F117 and B2 would disagree with you.

  • blight_

    Designing aircraft with a shape to reduce radar return isn’t magic: it can be done cheaply as with the F-117’s (though maintaining first generation coatings is expensive). ATB had cost-overruns in R&D, leading to a severely truncated buy. F-22 and JSF are heavily computerized, and have “pork” development costs for DAS/IRST/et al attached to the aircraft.

  • Dfens

    It’s one thing for the uneducated masses to say crap like “You know that stealth may be over-rated,” or “I don’t think it’s going to be super-duper fast, because you can’t outrun missiles,” but for a high ranking Navy officer to spout that BS is simply inexcusable. Greenert should be fired and if it happened today it would be a month too late.

    You can clearly see companies like Boeing and Lockheed are already posturing to have a chance against Northrop. The only way those con-artists can win this competition against the F-23 is to spread BS just like that coming out of Greenert’s mouth.

    • Franklin

      Give him a break! Its all about money, and they need more ships. Let the big guys develope a cost effective platform. They are really out of control, and the competition isn’t strong enough to cut pork, and deal with reality. We know hypersonic is coming, and if we can’t budgetize now we will never be able to afford it. I sure would not want to be facing that tech unprepared!

    • William_C1

      Odd that I’m actually agreeing with you here minus the notion that Lockheed and Boeing are con-artists while Northrop is the ideal. The huge cut to B-2 production wasn’t their fault but their performance on that program didn’t earn them a lot of praise.

      I’d love to see an aircraft looking a lot like the F-23 flying from a carrier someday, I just hope it doesn’t look anything like that hideous NATF concept of theirs.

  • Mark

    I see this as a cover for new stealth teachnologies to be developed whereby we make the radar capturing fissure structures to first capture the low band frequencies then deeper in the fissure structures you capture ever higher dedicated EM bands.

  • Cody

    I see a possible introduction of electromagnetic resonance into the stealth programs arsenal. Even with smarter frequency use, the radar cant detect something that is basically allowing the frequencies to “pass” through them. Basically in laymans terms it means that when the aircraft is “pinged” by radar that the bomber can detect these signals and reroute them so if appears as if nothing is there. I know they use advanced shaping on the B-51 to catch these signals in “fissures”, but to be honest the B-51 is becoming outdated and is almost a liability in some maneuvers (not saying it’s lost all strategic value just losing it’s edge). I’m no aeronautical engineer (More of a hobby) but doesn’t it seem to make sense to take ideas from our original b-51 and improve on those systems with a multi-purpose fighter that can carry heavy ordinance as well? Input appreciated as I am a dumb slightly under educated fan……..

    • William_C1

      Do you mean B-2 instead of B-51? The B-51 was an ungainly medium bomber from a company that no longer exists.

  • Dfens

    Why even have an F/A-XX program? If all they are going to do is design another F-18, why not use the F-18 they’ve got and save us all some money? You don’t need a fresh new airplane to use “smart skin” technology. This is like B-2-2, they’re dumbing down the program so much, why the hell even design a new airplane?

  • Atomic Walrus

    The proper question isn’t whether a next-gen fighter needs stealth, it’s what level of stealth is optimum in a trade-off with other attributes. Stealth isn’t a magical cloak of invisibility, but it can make an aircraft harder to target & kill. I notice that the Navy still paints their aircraft in camouflage, despite the fact that radar and IR are far more effective than visual targeting. Same difference.

    • Dfens

      You got that right. Most of stealth is shaping, yet the coatings cost a ton and they are the most unreliable part of stealth causing aircraft such as the F-22 to have a very low availability rate. So keep the shaping, get rid of the coatings, make them fast — and here’s another one, use more aluminum. Composite parts cost a fortune because of all the touch labor involved. More aluminum means planes that cost less initially, are more robust to operate, and are easier to maintain.

  • madskilz48

    After reading this I believe what is being said that speed and stealth both have limitations. The truth is an aircraft is a platform for dispensing weapons. Once the aircraft reaches a certain point it dispenses its weapons and goes home. Seems like you could do this with an f-4 with upgraded sonar and weapon systems.

  • rat

    Idiocy rules the day as usual here. All the Navy is saying is that it’s next fighter does not need to have over mach 2 sprinting speed and recognizes that radar LO alone isn’t going to be adequate. Think about the cost and engineering problems of an airplane that cruised at m1.8, has an RCS better than a -22, has to take off and land on a carrier, has to have 8 internal aams for stealth, and has to fit on a carrier.

  • OddVarkTomCat

    Satellites, duh…

  • Matt

    Can’t outrun missles!!! Tell that to SR-71 pilots who have on many occasions evaded missles based on speed.

  • I can’t believe the navy is already looking at sixth generation fighter jets when it’s f-35 c hasn’t even entered service. I am not saying i got a problem with that but Iam confused because I’ve seen In other websites and have heard that the the F/A-XX is suppose to replace the F-18s but I know the F-35 is replacing the F-18s so my question is who is replacing who.

  • William_C1

    One analyst said the Navy is looking at supercruise yet the CNO said it won’t be “super-duper fast”? A high supercruise speed means you’re talking about a Mach 2 capable aircraft. I doubt anybody was expecting F/A-XX to be as fast as a SR-71.

    One of the primary missions for this aircraft will have to be defense of the carrier battlegroup so that means performance is important.

    Yet anyone suggesting stealth isn’t useful is naive and this aircraft should have as low a radar cross section as possible without compromising performance. All of these VHF radars can still detect a conventional aircraft before a stealthy one and we can concentrate our ECM and EW efforts on those radar bands stealth forces our enemies to rely upon.

    Anybody thinking this aircraft won’t be expensive is a fool. It will be large and it will be costly. The only question is if the Navy can go it alone or will this have to be a joint program with the Air Force? While I’d prefer the former I fear it may have to be the latter.

    • balais

      “Yet anyone suggesting stealth isn’t useful is naive ”

      give it another 20 years and well see if this sentiment is still true.

      radar stealth is a technological dead end.

      • blight_

        If stealth is truly a dead end, then we can hang reflectors on everything and go home.

        Radar has been a powerful game changer. First we tried to jam it with chaff, then we tried to evade it by flying low to the ground. Then we tried EW. And as radar evolves to deal with these things we are running out of options. Reducing the cross section of the aircraft is the next best thing.

  • Kostas

    First of all, I do believe that LO is the new standard. In my view the non-LO aircrafts can act only as missile carriers at long distances from any air defense with elementary capabilities. However, I see a new technology that can set a new challenge for LO aircrafts: the smart skins.
    The smart skins would allow the integration of large antennas into the aircraft structure that would make possible the use of low frequency radars in fighters. Low frequency radars can detect LO aircrafts. Although low frequency radars is not a magic solution (they are vulnerable to jamming from long range) it represents a new factor to consider. Don’t forget that the weakest point of current low frequency radars is that they are large, difficult to move, land(only) systems.

  • Glenn

    If you cannot outrun a missile, why weren’t there any SR-71 “Blackbird” aircraft shot down with missiles or bullets / shells??

    • chuckiechan

      Because they are at 80,000 feet where it’s difficult to steer a small winged missile in such thin atmosphere at the speeds necessary for an intercept.

    • Dfens

      These aren’t the droids you’re looking for. He can go about his business. Move along.

  • Franklin

    This is very interesting, and beyond my knowledge, but I can’t help but reiterate that it’s very expensive by the magnitude of the endeavor which is simple logic. I am going to go out on a limb and speculate that pod mounted defenses are more capable than sea to air missiles, cheaper to upgrade than expensive and sophisticated platforms, and undoubtedly enters a black area of knowledge.

    The F18 is a truck without supercruise thus the desire to build a frame to make it faster and less vulnerable. That can be done cheaply, and will bring it up to Euro standards. Do we really need the rest when the price prohibits, I don’t think so. If the price comes down then maybe, and if high maintenance is a result then forget it. We need 100% capabilities at all times because of shrinking force structures and growing economically superior opponents.

  • conradswims

    ! It is called an A-10.

  • AAK

    Of all the branches of the US military the most good sense seems to come from the navy lately. Probably because they don’t have so much invested in trying to justify stealth uber alles, they have other strings to their bow than the C. What they really need now are some next-gen missile and EW programs. Strangely the US is behind the cheapskate euros on things like AA, AS missile & IRST programs.

    • Dfens

      Yeah, it’s not like they designed the DDG-1000 to be stealthy or anything. Of course, it’s not that stealthy, but it did cost nearly as much as a Nimitz class aircraft carrier, and you could almost buy 3 Iowa class battleships for one the one DDG-1000 that was built before the program was cancelled cost. It’s good that the Navy has such great “sense” though.

  • secone

    Enough about the SR-71s. We all know that the Blackbird can outrun missiles. Now unless you can build a version to take off and land on carriers, it really is pointless to say anything else about it here.

    • Dfens

      The SR-71 was designed in the 1960s. That’s half a century ago. You’re saying we can’t design an airplane as fast as that 50 year old museum piece that can land on carriers today? Who the f are you to say that?

  • chaos0xomega

    sad day when NAVAIR has a better grasp of the realities of the future of air warfare than the USAF does.

  • Rob C.

    I’m glad Admiral Greenert was able state what possibilities hold for next F/A-XX. I think only problem is trying other interests in the government changing or forcing their views on what R&D is telling them. I’d like for once see a replacement military program be able come out way they intended.

    Stealth reduces signature of the plane, not remove it. However, heat sinking missile doesn’t give a darn when it locks on to your near invisible plane. Trying evolve planes beyond Stealth is important. Hopefully the Supercruise will be useful, but the problems that F-22 can be learned given it’s rep from few years ago as being pilot killer due to problems with life support.

  • MIKE

    Well does that make Carriers (Big/slow) obsolete also —– they can be killed and we still seem to building them. Speed is always your friend and new weapon systems I think are the key. Long range missiles and hypersonic systems mixed in with UAS systems. Rail gun and Lasers will usher in a new era in warfare. Space systems will also shape the future of modern warfare.

  • Ranger-12

    why not lets get off our butts and develop some space based weapons platforms. if you have a platform setting up there in space with a good laser weapon or some other type of weapons system that can take the bad boy our of the sky as soon as the engine start on the plane or what ever they are trying to get in the fight.
    The F-35 and F-22 have their problems which have not been worked out yet and never have been in combat to my knowledge. I want to see what the so call bad boy can do when it come to the nut cutting and tit squeezing as we call in the country where I come from.

  • Ranger-12

    why not for once can’t all the services that flies fighters and bombers get together and come up with about for good planes that will serve all services. (I remember we had the A-7 that was flown by the navy, air force, air guard and even maybe the marines and it worked good). how about if we do it again, look at money that could be saved on the budgets that coule be used for some other types of a weapons platform. just a thought

    • blight_

      I imagine “it worked good” depends on who you ask in which service.

      I wonder how the Air Force would feel about flying F/A-18’s…

  • Super Tex

    Overall speed is overrated, look at the satellite intercept a few years ago. Using only a modified standard missile, we shot down one of our own sats. As it was in orbit it was traveling around 16,000mph. Fighters need maneuverability more than outright speed. I’d rather the fighter had long legs and super cruise, using only one engine. If the fighter could cruise at Mach. 1.25 and go 1.8 flat out. Then turn like nobodies business and had a low observability . I’d be all for that.

  • Ostallen

    With ten billion lines of computer code in the F-35 stealth is not the only cost we are looking at these days.

  • Brad Davis

    Hmmm. This is an interesting issue. But I wonder if the real issue here is not the radar technology of the fighter or AEGIS system but the tracking system in the missile itself? Meaning that if the stealth fighter is out of range of an AEGIS or AWACS system then the target would have to be tracked by the stealth planes own radar, painting a target on it itself. That would negate any advantage of stealth no matter how sophisticated. True there are fire and forget missiles but even then the stealth fighter would have to paint the target at least once. Also call me whatever but stealth is only really useful at night, any moving object can be see with the naked eye and if not with the eye then with a scope, the F-14 electro/optical system for example. Now of course any plane that needs to be tracked with a scope means that it’s altitude is so high that a missile is needed to shoot it down…which again is defeated by stealth, but what good is a surprise attack if I can see or even hear you coming? for example all of the gulf war 1 stealth strikes were at night. Therefore I think that the real case against stealth is its cost, complexity and logistical needs: Does a plane need stealth at all times to be effective? Does all of our planes need stealth? How many planes can we afford then? . I think that a compromise would be better; make the planes non-stealth but make the missiles stealthy i.e. have the missiles operate on a passive mode allowing it to be guided by the planes radar be when they close in for its terminal run, go active! this way you keep the overall cost of the air-frame down and you have a stealth missile system that is more expensive then regular shot yes but only used when needed, which again keeps the overall cost down. What do you guys think?

  • Woe

    Isn’t he describing the F-35 ???

  • M. K. Smith

    Seems that cheap unmanned attack drones and large numbers of them will be the answer to defeating new radar and weapon systems. Why speed billions on a few aircraft that will be detected and shot down to have a pilot killed or captured when a drone can do the job? A drone can pull more G’s than a piloted plane and with video and sensors a human pilot can fly the mission, remotely from anywhere in the world and no matter the outcome have dinner with his family that night at home. The days of manned fighter aircraft are over and the military needs to wake up and smell the coffee.

  • isayhoomhom

    How do I find out Adm. Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations’ email address? I’m trying to start a petition.

  • Brad Davis

    It might be prudent to base the next fighter on F14; but with a fixed wing. The F14 and the SU35 look similar in some respects and the characteristics of both are the same somewhat, and we.can all agree that dollar for dollar the SU35 is the best fighter ever made and the F14 the best we ever made go back to what works. Making it fixed wing would get rid of a majority of the complexities making it cheaper. What are your thoughts?