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Vineet R. asked: What are the characteristics of a 6th Generation fighter aircraft?

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  • Kishore Kumar Khera replies: Military aviation, like any other technology-intensive field, continuously evolves. Although a classic definition of various generations of combat aircraft does not exist but based on the core capabilities, it is broadly classified. The core thrust area for combat aircraft has shifted from speed (1st Generation–F100), altitude (2nd Generation–MiG25), manoeuvrability (3rd Generation–F16) and sensor integration (4th Generation–SU30) to low observability (5th Generation–F22) in the last 100 years. Going by this trend and development and integration of new technology, the 6th Generation combat aircraft is likely to be the one that can integrate Artificial Intelligence (AI) for greater automation.  

    A 6th Generation combat aircraft possibly will have optional manning but more importantly, it will be configured to enable the crew to control one or more unmanned combat aerial vehicles as loyal wingmen. Practically, instead of only being a combat platform, it will have an additional capability as an airborne control station that can guide and launch weapons from one or more unmanned aerial vehicles. Such a solution will be possible only when AI, sensors, communications and weapons are seamlessly integrated to allow combat aircraft crew to have a holistic battlespace picture with optimal solutions displayed without information saturation. Conceptualisation work has already started in this direction. The United Kingdom’s Project Tempest and a joint venture between France, Germany and Spain to replace Eurofighter are leading this task at this juncture. By 2040, a fully operational 6th Generation combat aircraft is a possibility.

    For more details, please refer to Chapter 5 of the following MP-IDSA publication:

    Kishore Kumar Khera, Combat Aviation: Flight Path 1968-2018, KW Publishers, New Delhi, 2020, pp. 71–92.  

    Posted on 14 March 2022

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India.