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.