Lockheed ‘unveils’ 6th generation tailless fighter concept; New design could further reduce radar signature

Lockheed Martin has released a new render depicting a hypothetical sixth-generation fighter jet component. The artwork was primarily intended to showcase Lockheed’s LMXT tanker concept, which is shown refueling a stealth, tailless sixth-generation fighter jet.

As envisioned by Lockheed Martin, the potential human-crewed NGAD aircraft features a diamond-shaped wing with straight leading and trailing edges. The wing and the long stretched fuselage, which has a single conspicuous chine line and tapers sharply towards the nose, are intimately integrated.

The sixth generation NGAD aircraft is shown refueling Lockheed’s LMXT tanker concept – Lockheed Martin.

Tailless designs, for example, frequently appeared in NGAD-adjacent concept art, as they would offer extremely low observability (stealth), large internal volume for fuel, armament, and sensors, and high level of efficiency.

Additionally, two shallow “bulges” that appear to be related to the propulsion system can be seen on either side of the center fuselage section.

According to a senior researcher at the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS), Abhijit Iyer Mitra, “This generally matches some of the previous renders we’ve seen that indicated a twin-engine design.

However, it’s surprising that it looks much smaller than previous NGAD render designs. It also confirms that the level of total signature management is so high that it shouldn’t depend on maneuverability, which is why he removed the vertical stabilizers.

Mitra further says, “the smallness in size also seems to indicate that this is an optional pilot plane as the pilot could be quite crammed into it, which is unusual for a twin engine plane but the relative ratio to tanker render seems to indicate that the jet fighter could fly completely autonomously without a pilot as well.

What’s surprising is that infrared exhaust management is there, but it’s not as extreme as we thought to avoid the need for drivability altogether.

The plane’s design resembles several earlier renderings of the fighter jet that Lockheed Martin is said to be working on for the US Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance program.

Two of these designs have so far been made public: one with a V-tail resembling the Northrop Grumman YF-23 prototype of the 1990s in general, and the other possibly related to the F/A-XX program of the US Navy from the early 2010s., noted Aerotime Hub.

The latter is eerily similar to the triangular jet seen in Lockheed Martin’s most recent illustration, suggesting the company is still developing the concept.

Rendering of Lockheed Martin.

Since the engine air intakes are hidden, they’re likely positioned under the cell, as you’d expect from sixth-generation models. On August 19, the United States Air Force (USAF) announced the awarding of contracts totaling approximately $4.9 billion to five companies to develop a prototype adaptable engine for the fighter jet. sixth generation, as EurAsian Times previously noted.

It’s not a vast airframe relative to the refueling boom, but the NGAD is considering a larger manned combat aircraft design with increased internal fuel and weapons carriage.

The service also mentioned the potential for two different aircraft types, one with a longer range better suited to operations in the Indo-Pacific and another with a lower range more suited to European theaters. Therefore, the size cannot be estimated at this time.

Aviation analyst Prashant Prabhakar told EurAsian Times: “A tailless design could induce less parasitic drag and good stealth characteristics although, on the other hand, it could have potential trim sensitivity. Stealth aircraft engines are often located deep inside of the fuselage, which seems to be the case here as well.

Stealth is an unavoidable feature of 6th Gen fighters. I think the overall goal would always be to reduce the radar signature reflected from the fighter to enemy radar.

The concept art was released a day after fellow defense contractor Northrop Grumman announced the date for the public unveiling of America’s next-generation stealth bomber, the B-21 Raider. Like the NGAD, the B-21 is a very closely watched program with an integrated aircraft in a flying wing design.

Is the NGAD coming soon?

According to the Secretary of the United States Air Force, the next-generation combat platform is still in the design phase. It has yet to officially reach the engineering, production and development stages.

Lockheed Martin is one of many companies working on the NGAD. This “family of systems” includes new sensors, weapons, networks and combat management capabilities. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said in June that there was still competition within the project, but offered no additional details.

The US Air Force Research Laboratory released a sixth-generation NGAD aircraft concept
The US Air Force Research Laboratory has released a concept of the sixth generation NGAD aircraft (Illustration by netrunner75)

In addition to the sixth generation combat aircraft, the NGAD is also considering the Cooperative Combat Aircraft (CCA) concept, which will fly with the sixth generation combat aircraft in a potentially manned-unmanned team format.

Because of their autonomy, CCAs can execute instructions given by a pilot just as a formation pilot executes instructions given by the formation leader.

That being said, the 6th generation fighter that will be part of the NGAD has not yet determined its capabilities. Even though the technologies used in the fighter aircraft (NGAD) were sufficiently advanced to allow entry into the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase of the NGAD program acquisition schedule, the U.S. Department Defense has not yet taken an appeal to go further.

The NGAD will cost several hundred million dollars, Kendall said during a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee in April 2022. The NGAD is the most expensive aircraft program in history, although it won’t did not provide a number.

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