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Nearly two-thirds of the aircraft flying off U.S. Navy carriers could be unmanned someday, including the possibility of drone fighter jets, a top aviation leader said.
Like the Air Force, the Navy will take a “family of systems” approach to its next-generation air dominance, or NGAD, program, which will use aircraft, sensors and other equipment that complement one another and work together to stave off threats, Rear Adm. Gregory Harris, the chief of naval operations’ air warfare directorate, said.
“We expect that that family of systems will be a combination of manned and unmanned right now, notionally looking at and driving toward an air wing that has a 40-60 unmanned/manned split. And over time … shift that to a 60-40 unmanned/manned split,” Harris said. The effort will “try to drive an air wing that is at least 50% or more unmanned over time,” he added.
The approach will center on the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet’s follow-on aircraft, which the Navy is studying now, Harris said. The service is weighing whether the fighter, known as F/A-XX for the time being, will be manned, unmanned or partially autonomous, he explained.
US Air Force officials have said NGAD defies traditional categorization as a single aircraft platform or technology. Instead, it’s made up of a network of advanced fighter aircraft, sensors, and weapons, and could also include fighters and autonomous drones fighting side-by-side, according to military.com.