US Air Force wants to combine 1,000 drones with hundreds of sixth-generation fighters and F-35 Lightning II

By: Maksim Panasovskyi | 08.03.2023, 20:03
US Air Force wants to combine 1,000 drones with hundreds of sixth-generation fighters and F-35 Lightning II

The United States Air Force has revealed for the first time that it is upgrading its aircraft fleet to include drones capable of operating in conjunction with fifth- and sixth-generation aircraft.

Here's What We Know

The US Air Force is gradually moving forward with the development of a sixth-generation fighter aircraft. The aircraft is being developed under the Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) programme as a replacement for the F-22 Raptor. It will cost several hundred million dollars at the start, making it 2-3 times more expensive than the F-35 Lightning II costs now. By the way, the US Air Force has wanted to start decommissioning the F-22 for several years, but Congress has consistently opposed it.

The service has long been working to ensure that fifth- and sixth-generation aircraft can operate alongside drones. Drones like the Valkyrie or Ghost Bat from Kratos and Boeing, respectively, can seek out enemy positions, strike and distract enemy air defence systems.

It has become known that the US Air Force wants 1,000 advanced guided drones, which will be combined with fighter jets. Specifically, 300 F-35 Lightning IIs and 200 NGADs are said to be in the pipeline. This means that the pilot of each fighter jet will control two drones. Perhaps this function will be put on the shoulders of pilots of other aircraft, such as aerial refuelers. But that's another story altogether.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said the day before that the service will ask Congress for funding in the fiscal 2024 budget to advance the Joint Strike Air Combat Vehicle program, as well as the NGAD futuristic stealth fighter program, to map out the operation, organization and support of the new systems. 1,000 drones is not an exact number. Kendall acknowledged that the figures to be sent to Congress will likely not match what the final numbers will be. However, they will provide an estimate of needs and determine infrastructure requirements.

The cost per drone should be many times lower than the F-35 Lightning II. The price of the fifth-generation fighter in batch No 14 was around $78m excluding the cost of the Pratt &Whiteny F135 engine.

Source: Defence News