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New Air Force Jet Concept: Like a Prius, But With Lasers

• David Axe via

The jet fighter of the future could fire lasers, evade radars and heat-detecting sensors, and slip software viruses into enemy computer networks. All this while flying farther and more often, and using less gas. At least that’s what Air Force chief scientist Mark Maybury envisions for the planned successor to today’s F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters.

The new fighter, called “F-X” by the Air Force, could enter service sometime after 2030 and be heavily influenced by an increasingly popular aerospace design trend called the “More-Electric Aircraft,” Maybury said in a July presentation. In essence, the More-Electric Aircraft initiative aims to produce badass flying versions of today’s hybrid-electric Prius cars.

But don’t get too excited. There are good reasons to be skeptical of Maybury’s electric-fighter idea. For one, a hybrid-electric dogfighter could cost a fortune to design and build. And the Air Force has completely botched the current batch of jet fighters — why would anyone believe it can successfully develop the next one? Of all the military branches, only the Navy has proved in recent years that it can balance ambitions and the discipline to actually produce new fighters in large numbers.

Still, the More-Electric Aircraft take on the F-X — let’s just call it the “More-Electric Fighter” — looks great, in theory.

The key to the electric fighter’s sweet skills would be a new power system loosely modeled on the internal workings of hybrid cars, plus a super-efficient “combined-cycle” engine equally suited for slow and fast flight. The power system and engine promise “savings in the $B’s with improved warfighting,” Maybury claimed. (That B, by the way, stands for “billions.”)

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