The US Air Force Secretly Designed and Flew a New Fighter Jet Testbed and I just Feel Depressed

When I heard a new sixth generation fighter technology demonstrator flew I didn’t feel excitement. A broken, and possibly dying, empire invests in another half century or more of warfare. Whoopee! Let’s crack open the champagne and drink to an eternal 20th century!

War and high technology for the sake of it should not belong to the future, the world has more serious matters to attend to. The United States Air Force is amazing as air forces go. If they twiddled their fingers and kept the existing hardware for another twenty years they’d still have the numbers and quality to do almost anything. The Russian Su-57 is a hopeless prestige exercise, the J-20 irrelevant – and anyway the US hasn’t faced a serious peer air force since the Luftwaffe almost 80 years ago (and no: Korea, Vietnam and Iraq do not count). Could ignoring the arms technology race leave America vulnerable to another ‘Pearl Harbor’? Possibly, but probably not. There are more likely dangers and there are even (almost) inevitable ones.

In fact the US military is so brilliant that a pressing concern for more pessimistic planners in the rest of the world might be exactly how the US could be stopped in the event of a calamity. They may wonder how such a potentially hazardous overmatch was allowed to happen. How we’ve got to a situation where the US is the only nation that has truly modern attack aircraft in mass production. How the US has a defence budget 14 times higher than India despite having a population only a third the size. If the sole point of the USAF was to defend US lives in the modern world, it clearly hasn’t been money well spent; the mourned dead were not put in their graves by ‘Blackjacks’ and ‘Backfires’. But defending US civilians isn’t the sole role of USAF. Many key objectives are rather more bizarre. Core missions for the service include ‘Global Strike … Any target, any time’ and ‘the Freedom to Attack’. When considering whether that is a desirable idea, the philosopher Immanuel Kant may have asked: ‘Would that be a good thing for every nation to have?’ , before dodging punches from B-1B pilots who don’t wish to fly Dreamliners.

The US of the future will be optionally manned.

The future is always unpredictable but it’s hard not to think that aerial firefighting aircraft will be the most valuable kind of fighter aircraft in 2040. It is an extreme optimist who prepares for a high-tech war in 2100.


  1. Gray Stanback

    You have perfectly captured what I call the Aviation Enthusiast’s Dilemma. How, as lovers of aircraft and flight, do we separate our enthusiasm for the great technical ingenuity that goes into them from the terrible nature of their work?

  2. Barry Larking

    Sense at last. The world is not slipping towards another world war unless pushed very hard. The circumstances that changed the way nations fight wars in the last century came about from one cause and only one: Germany’s five wars of aggression in seventy five years, each one removing yet more and more of the restraints that controlled international behaviour following the Wars of Religion in the 16th century; 1945 has been a poisonous legacy for military planning yet was as untypical of preceding centuries of warfare as is possible to imagine. Wars once were settled by treaties following exhaustion of human lives or material, not unconditional surrender with total submission. Parallels made with the past fail historical analysis on tis alone. As George Orwell pointed out at the end of the Second World War, the ancient wars of former times could and did seek to wipe out their opponents because these numbered a few thousands (Troy, Carthage, to name two well known examples). The world we in the advanced countries live in today are as unlike that of seventy years ago that might be imagined by a gifted science fiction writer – we have devices in our homes we can speak to! To those who understand such things this is the beginning of a new dawn for our entire civilisation. Consider that from a U.K. perspective we have an advanced air superiority fighter bombing caves in northern Mesopotamia! What on earth is that about? Despite decades of sending troops to Afghanistan to eliminate training camps of terrorists the U.K. cannot prevent an Islamic inspired attack at any time anywhere on the streets of the this land.

    I welcome this article more than I can say. I am reminded of a paper that ‘disappeared’ without trace last century: Is the Red Army Obsolete? asked awkward questions with severe implications for western defence companies income and dividends. There must be a full and open conversation about what defence means and protecting national and international peace should look like. Realistically however, I am expecting talk of a seventh generation autonomous super fighter any day …

  3. John Marks

    A motivating discussion is definitely worth
    comment. I do think that you ought to publish more about this subject matter, it may not be a taboo matter but generally people
    don’t talk about these subjects. To the next! Cheers!!

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