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 Military.com.

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 Kris.Osborn@military.com