(above images courtesy of www.invisible-defenders.org)
Wind tunnel model of the A-X (A/F-X) aircraft.
The A-X (a.k.a. "A/F-X") was a joint program with participation by the Navy and the Air Force to replace current strike aircraft that were completing their service lives. The A-X would replace the Navy A-6 and the Air Force F-111, F-15E, and F-117. The A-X would offer major advantages over both the F-111 and A-6, some of which will be as much as 42 years old by the time the first A-X squadron was to become active with the Navy or the Air Force. The multi-mission capability of the A-X would provide the tools necessary to execute successfully any mission assigned. Its technology would be state-of-the-art, designed to neutralize future threats and to provide superb weapons delivery capability. The A-X was intended to be fast, highly maneuverable, and able to conduct a wide variety of autonomous missions. It was to be able to employ air-to-air missiles, anti-radiation missiles, precision guided munitions, and unguided or dumb bombs. It was to have the latest survivability upgrades.
The Navy launched the AX program -- successor to the A-12 which was terminated for default by Secretary of Defense Cheney -- with a design competition planned for the concept exploration and definition phase. According to the Secretary of Defense, the AX was expected to possess a significant air-to-air and air-to-ground capability for both offensive and defensive purposes. The degree to which the AX could perform both air-to-air, as well as air-to-ground, missions, was an important consideration being defined during 1992. The specific mix of combat capabilities and airframe performance parameters was defined in the concept exploration phase of the AX program in 1992, as competing industry design teams formulated their specific proposals to meet the Navy's broad set of tentative operational requirements. That phase was to be followed by the selection of one contractor for the crucial demonstration and validation [DemVal] phase. The Navy rejected the idea of competitive prototypes for the AX as too expensive. The AX program, while intended to develop a less costly successor to the A-12, was nevertheless expected to cost at least $14,000,000,000. The 1993 budget request contained $165.6 million to continue concept development of the AX medium attack aircraft for the Navy and the Air Force. During action in 1992 on this request, the House authorized $760.6 million for development of the AX, and required a competitive prototype strategy for the AX aircraft emphasizing current generation stealth technology and existing engines, radars, and avionics, with the competitive prototype phase be completed by no later than 1996. The Senate authorized a total of $50.0 million for AX development, and also endorsed a competitive prototype acquisition strategy. The Congress approved the $165.6 million as requested, and directed that that the Department of Defense should utilize current generation stealth technology and, to the maximum feasible extent, engines, radars, and avionics systems that exist or are in development.
The program engendered one of the most elaborate and bizarre contractor mating dances in history. Five teams were competing for the prime contractor slot. Team one was comprised of McDonnell Douglas and the LTV Corporation. Team two was General Dynamics and McDonnell Douglas. Team three was made up of Boeing, Lockheed, and General Dynamics. Team four was Grumman, Boeing, and Lockheed. Northrop had a difficult time filling its dance card, apparently because of its bad public image, but it eventually seduced General Dynamics to enter the contest with its third entrant. Thus, of the seven teams competing, it appeared that four had developed advanced cases of schizophrenia. McDonnell Douglas, General Dynamics, Lockheed and Boeing had been employing at least two separate teams of engineers working at separate locations who weren't allowed to exchange strategy or data.
While the mating process seemed original, some of the designs were not. General Dynamics and McDonnell Douglas rehashed their A-12 design and Boeing, General Dynamics and Lockheed offered a version of their F-22 ATF. Grumman originally tried to market upgrades of its F-14 Tomcat as an A-12 replacement. The Navy rejected the Tomcat primarily because of its lack of stealth, but the Grumman, Boeing, Lockheed team intended to draw from Grumman's F-14 and naval aviation experience. Even though the macro-design for the AX was new, it was likely that the aircraft would borrow from other programs for subcomponents. The A-12 cancellation had set back the Navy's schedule, and it was looking at the F-22's avionics package for possible integration. TRW was investigating how avionics being developed for the F-22 could be used on the AX. Monetary savings was reportedly a prime motivation.
In early 1993 the Congressional Budget Office estimated that canceling the Navy's AX tactical aircraft program would save $3.6 billion over 5 years. And in late 1993 it was decided to cancel the AX attack aircraft program, under the theory that the FA-18E/F was adequate for another decade.
So, it took two sets of ashes in the 1990's before the Navy got to their next-generation aircraft: the Joint Strike Fighter.
The Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) originated in the early 1990s through the restructure and integration of several DoD tactical aircraft and technology initiatives already underway. The DoD goal was to use the latest technology in a common family of aircraft to meet the future strike requirements of the Services and US Allies.
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This page was last updated on 09/05/09 .