I've questioned for some time (including in these pages) whether, with the advent of light-speed energy weapons, manned aircraft have a viable future over the battlefield. Now Flight Global asks the same question.
Despite anaemic sales growth, the defence industry somehow sustains 11 different fighter types in active production, with more in early development. Yet the future of the fighter’s core mission has never been more uncertain. Fifth-generation designs were supposed to give way by 2030 to a sixth, which would leverage advances in tailless flight controls, advanced stealth, efficient supersonic propulsion and new weapons.
Now the US Air Force is having second thoughts about developing such a fighter. In unusually candid remarks, the service’s lead requirements setter, Lt Gen James Holmes, says no new technology on the horizon is likely to make a sixth-generation fighter survivable against advanced ground-based air defences.
It has been known for some time that a modern-day, close-in dogfight is essentially a mutual suicide pact for the opposing pilots, due to advances in high off-boresight targeting and missile agility. But it is astonishing that the USAF should now acknowledge the fighter aircraft’s fundamental vulnerability to attacks from terra firma.
There's more at the link.
Of course, one can't help thinking of the 'missile mafia' of the 1950's and 1960's, who argued that aircraft were no longer needed because missiles would 'do it all'. We all know how that turned out . . .