WASHINGTON Feb 18 The U.S. Air Force is nearing
completion of a study about U.S. air dominance in 2030 that will
lay the groundwork for future purchases of a "family" of new
combat weapons that could include a fighter jet, a top general
Lieutenant General Mike Holmes, deputy chief of staff of the
Air Force for strategic plans and requirements, told reporters
the study should be presented to top Air Force leaders next
month. The next step would be a formal analysis of alternatives,
which would pave the way for a new acquisition program in coming
years, he said.
Lockheed Martin Corp, maker of the F-35 and F-22
fighter jets, Boeing Co, which builds the F/A-18E/F and
F-15 fighter jets, and Northrop Grumman Corp, maker of
unmanned planes and large parts of the F-35 and F/A-18 jets, are
watching closely for clues about the future weapons program.
The Air Force is slated to declare an initial squadron of
radar-evading, fifth-generation F-35 fighter jets ready for
combat this August after 15 years of development work. But
advances in radar technologies by Russia and China have prompted
U.S. military leaders to start thinking about the next
generation of combat planes beyond the F-35.
"It won't be just one airframe that comes out of it. It'll
be a family of systems that helps us make sure we can guarantee
the air superiority that the joint force depends on," Holmes
told reporters after a speech hosted by the Air Force
Association, a booster group for the service.
Holmes said the Air Force was also exploring potential
electronic warfare capabilities as part of the effort.
Separately, Holmes said the Air Force planned to buy new
helicopters to replace its aging fleet of 62 UH-1N helicopters
built by Bell Helicopter, a unit of Textron Inc, which
are used for security around Minuteman III intercontinental
ballistic missile silos, and to provide VIP transports.
He said the Air Force's fiscal 2017 budget would start
funding the effort, but decisions about how the acquisition
would be structured have not yet been made.
He said one possibility would be to split the current
mission into two, carving off the nuclear protection work, and
potentially awarding a single supplier a sole-source contract.
Europe's Airbus, Bell Helicopter and Sikorsky
Aircraft, a unit of Lockheed, have all expressed interest in
building the new helicopters for the Air Force.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Leslie Adler)