US Air Force eyes 'Star Wars' style laser-weaponed smart aircraft for its future

The sixth-generation jets may opt for 'brain power' over stealth and dogfighting ability.

F-35 warplane costing UK government millions due to tech failureMinistry of Defence

The US military has its sights on a next-generation of aircraft that will be so advanced it could 'defy tradition categorisation' by trading stealth and dogfighting ability for electronic smarts, sensors and Star Wars style laser weapons.

While the US Air Force is still awaiting delivery of its fifth-generation F-35 fighter jet, the sixth-generation may not need to 'fight' at all thanks to technology changing the landscape of aerial warfare, officials claimed at a recent discussion.

"Air combat is not all about fighter aircraft dogfighting anymore ... it's about bringing a network to bear, and attributes [penetrating counterair] needs in terms of range, persistence, survivability, lethality," Military.com quoted Brig. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, head of an Enterprise Capability Collaboration Team.

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As the Air Force plans to pre-empt new enemy threats that will develop over the coming decades its Air Superiority 2030 report details the likely scenarios they could face and what capabilities its craft will need to counter them.

According to Military.com, the panel of officials made it clear that stealth (which it has heavily invested in for decades) may no longer be necessary and instead look at using sensors for to detect incoming targets at long range.

"We collectively were guilty for a while in thinking that stealth was the only thing we needed to think about — [that] the stealthier something was, that the better it was. When you compare, in the discussion of survivability, you now can talk about other forms of electronic warfare to supplement, you can talk about how speed plays [into it] often," the report quoted Grynkewich.

The US Air Force claims its next-generation aircraft will rely on electronic brains and lasers rather than stealth. Nick Kaloterakis

In addition to aircraft technological capabilities the inclusion of a next-gen laser weapons system was discussed. The directed energy, high-powered, laser has been touted for years and has seen forms of the system in testing, however the analysis lead for the ECCT report, Jeff Saling, gave encouraging news by confirming combat lasers, which are famously seen on Star Wars Tie Fighters, are on the way.

"Directed energy is coming. There is a lot of great progress that's been made...it's just a matter of where we can start integrating those into a system," said Saling.

Lasers could be used in both offensive and defensive measures with the intense beams able to destroy targets and also jam incoming projectiles by throwing it off-course.

More work will be required and it was reported that lasers are being tested against other unspecified weaponry. Recently, it was reported that the US Air Force had been testing "bolt-on" optics technology and could be designed for retrofitting on the Boeing B-52 bomber.

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The US Army is also testing laser weapons with a successful firing of a 60kw truck-mounted laser built by Lockheed Martin destroying a target over a mile away in just one second.

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