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The US Air Combat Command (ACC) will embark on an 18-month of leap-ahead air superiority fighter options next January, as eight nations move forward with development of a dozen different fifth-generation combat jets aimed at narrowing the US’ lead with the Lockheed Martin F-22 RAPTOR and F-35 LIGHTNING II.

After publishing its Air Superiority 2030 Flight Plan in May, the air service is now reaching for what is known as Penetrating Counter-Air (PCA), a family of weapons designed to clear the skies of enemy threats four years from now. PCA will not be a “sixth-gen” fighter in the traditional sense, but it will be a successor or supplement to the Boeing F-15 EAGLE and F-22.

PCA does include a new low-observable aircraft powered by an adaptive-cycle engine, armed with an internally carried successor to the Raytheon AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) and AGM-88-series High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM).

From about January 2017 to June 2018, the ACC will determine the key requirements and present a range of hardware options to senior leaders for entry into an acquisition programme. Current and projected capability gaps are already well-known and the range of technologies available have been identified through initiatives with the Office of the Secretary of Defense, DARPA, the Defense Science Board, Air Force Research Laboratory, and various think tanks.

After publishing its Air Superiority 2030 Flight Plan in May, the US Air Combat Command is now reaching for what is known as Penetrating Counter-Air (PCA), a family of weapons designed to clear the skies of enemy threats four years from now. PCA will not be a “sixth-gen” fighter in the traditional sense, but it will be a successor or supplement to the Boeing F-15 EAGLE and Lockheed Martin F-22. The latter is seen in the photo alongside the F-35 LIGHTNING II. (Photo: USAF)

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