The United States wants to acquire stealth drones to counter threats from China and Russia


The United States Air Force (USAF) is about to conclude the QF-16 drone program.While the Chinese and Russians are also looking to acquire stealth drones to train for the more advanced challenge posed by stealth fighter jets.

One of the two conversion lines has been closed QF-16 Viper Large Scale Aerial Target Drone (FSAT) USAF, built from retired F-16 aircraft. The other facility will continue to operate until 2025, when the program will officially end.

The QF-16 program involves converting retired F-16 aircraft into QF-16 FSATs to provide training against anti-fourth generation supersonic fighters, which have so far been a major challenge for the United States.

However, to replicate the fifth and near-fifth generation stealth fighters flown by its rivals, such as D-20 from China And that Russian Su-57A, the US Air Force should eventually make progress on acquiring a new unmanned aircraft.


The program is called Next Generation Aerial Target (NGAT).

Target drones are aircraft used to develop and test military systems, military personnel trained in threat detection, and fighter pilots and perform kill testing of anti-aircraft systems. It is precisely for this reason that the United States now needs stealth drones to counter the threat posed by enemy stealth aircraft.

In this context, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) posted online on August 19, a few days after the closure of the QF-16 production plant, the latest Request for Information on Air Target New Generation ( NGAT).

The threat posed by anti-stealth fighters is evident within the ranks of the USAFOn June 9, the US Air Force re-established the 65th Aggressor Squadron (AGRS) at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

The unit will fly only the F-35A Lightning II and focus on replicating China’s superior airpower capabilities.

When asked if the F-35 could be used instead of building the NGAT from scratch, Squadron Leader Vijinder Thakur (retired), Indian Air Force veteran and former fighter pilot, told the Eurasian Times: “The F-35K will have different thermal and radar signatures. The LO combat signature of fighters and anti-low observation (LO) drones varies depending on their configuration. , this will vary greatly depending on the number and size of the external sockets.”

The United States wants to acquire stealth drones to counter threats from China and Russia
USAF 65th Offensive Squadron with reactivated F-35 fighters at Nellis (via Twitter)

He added: “To provide realistic training, the next generation of drones should aim for their radar and thermal signatures to be able to simulate the signature of different enemy fighters flying with different combat loads. The proposed NGAT is very short. At a cost that would provide versatility.

The stealth drones the US Air Force needs

Current US drones are either small-scale unmanned aircraft, such as the Air Force’s BQM-167A, a subsonic aircraft only 20 feet long, compared to the Su-57’s 65 feet, or the J- 20 of 69 feet, or the fourth generation of cold-blooded aircraft. East. Wartime manned aircraft such as the F-4 and F-16, which were converted to QF-4 and QF-16 drones.

These drones cannot duplicate the stealth, maneuverability and defense systems of fifth-generation aircraft.,

The US push to acquire a stealth drone comes as the J-20 has reportedly demonstrated its ability to find and track US drones. Meanwhile, Russia is ramping up production of its Su-57 stealth fighters. This greatly intensifies the danger.

The RFI for NGAT specifically mentions rival stealth jets saying: “Must be able to provide sufficient fidelity performance of advanced adversary threat aircraft (J-20, Su-57, etc.) for targeted attack scenarios. ” Specific test.

The United States wants to acquire stealth drones to counter threats from China and Russia
The Chinese J-20 stealth fighter is designed to operate in large sea areas. Source: Document.

The Air Force wants the NGAT to have a disposable, inexpensive design and be salvageable and reusable if not destroyed during the mission. If an NGAT proposal meets the criteria, it may be an entirely new design or a conversion of an existing type.

“The representative 5th generation target set should be able to provide a remotely controlled destructive property with RF emission” [radiofrecuencia] Hazard Representative, AE Emissions [ataque electrónico]Radar Cross Section (RCS) Signature, Infrared (IR) Signature and Consumables carried internally as per RFI.

,Remote-controlled targets must be able to operate autonomouslyEither under the remote control of a human operator, autonomously by on-board computers, or under any combination of the two methods,” he added.

Other requirements are continuous flight for two hours (120 minutes) at altitudes of 100 to 50,000 feet. The NGAT drone must be able to make two supersonic jumps at a time, each between two and four minutes and must be able to fly at least Mach 1.2 at an altitude of 30,000 feet.

The flight targets should have the capacity to store up to 450 pounds under each wing, as well as a 500-pound internal payload that can be made up of five independent systems.

The list of internal and external payloads included “electronic warfare (EW) equipment, radio frequency (RF) transmitters, electronic attack (EA) capabilities, and consumable materials such as sawdust and rockets. illuminating”, the latter having to be fired. An ammunition dispenser. AN/ALE-47 Service Standard Countermeasures.

The first model is unlikely to be operational before 2030, as the Air Force wants the prototype to be built within five years of the contract.

Can the NGAT be deployed in combat?

All this should be under a cheap “charming” support. A broad definition describes attractive drones as having designs that balance cost and capability. Target drones are unmanned aircraft that adequately pose a threat but are cheaply destroyed when test or training scenarios require it.

“Cost will be more than a determining factor,” the AFLCMC wrote, in response to several questions about the RFI NGAT from potential contractors, but “there is no fixed cost.” ,[Estamos] Looking to factor in real cost data [un] Compelling use cases at low cost.

General Kenneth Wilsbach, commander of the Pacific Air Force, argued in March that It would be more appropriate to deploy ‘flashy’ drones against China than high-end stealth fighters like F-35s or F-22sThus, the NGAT can also be used in combat if the USAF decides.

According to Thakur, “NGAT’s predecessor, known as 5GAT, was designed as a twin-engine LO drone with a diamond-shaped wing with two keel offsets. It had a length of 12.2 meters and a wingspan of 7.3 m, a maximum weight of 4.4 tons, a maximum flight altitude of 13,700 m, a maximum speed of 0.95 Mach and a range of 1 .5 hrs. If the NGAT is of similar size and capabilities, its capabilities can be used by the United States for secondary roles. Like the loyalist winger. If produced in sufficient numbers, it can also be deployed in combat.

The Air Force expects the NGAT to have a very flexible design that will introduce new and improved features over time. This contrasts with the QF-16, a modified model of the F-16 fighter which had completed its cycle,

The NGAT has become an indelible requirement for the US Air Force as it faces difficult challenges from China in the Indo-Pacific and Russia in and around Europe. Although aerial systems are not used for warfare, they will be useful for testing new technologies such as next-generation missiles and aircraft.


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