The U.S. Navy has started the process of eventually replacing its F/A-18E/F Super Hornet strike fighter and the EA-18G Growler electronic warfare derivative. On April 13, the service issued a request for information (RFI) seeking industry concepts for the F/A-XX fighter to replace Super Hornets and Growlers around 2030.
The RFI specifies a multi-role fighter capable of operating from nuclear-powered Nimitz- and Ford-class aircraft carriers “in an anti-access/area denied” operational environment. Air warfare, strike and surface warfare will be primary missions, but concepts should also include capability for tactical reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition (RSTA) and airborne electronic attack (AEA) roles, according to the Navy. “Concepts that are derived from legacy aircraft, ‘clean sheet’ new design aircraft, as well as innovative technology concepts specifically tailored for the operational context are all relevant,” the RFI states.
The F/A-XX is described as being complementary to the Navy’s F-35C Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) carrier variant and an unmanned persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft with precision strike capability. At the Navy League conference in mid-April, Capt. Frank Morley, F/A-18 and EA-18G program manager, said the F/A-XX is not intended as a “hedge” against ongoing problems with the F-35 program, nor is the future aircraft rendered unnecessary by the JSF. He noted that Super Hornets will be close to 20 years older than the first operational F-35s. “In the 2020-2030 time frame we intend to be a Super Hornet-JSF fleet, and then those Super Hornets are going to be aging out,” he said. “So we’re going to need to be a JSF and ‘something else’ fleet, and that something else is the F/A-XX.”