A-X stuff
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                                        (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.

In 1993, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency executed a program to develop a supersonic Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) aircraft as a replacement for the AV-8B Harrier. At about the same time, the Department of Defense (DoD) considered canceling the Navy's Advanced Attack/Fighter (A/F-X) that was being studied to fill the void left after the cancellation of the General Dynamics/McDonnell Douglas A-12 Avenger II aircraft being designed for the U.S. Navy. 

Senior leadership at the Pentagon suggested a Joint Attack Fighter (JAF) to replace the Navy's A/F-X program. Not only would the JAF be much cheaper than the A/F-X, it would also be designed with a common airframe suitable to the three services. It was believed that such an aircraft would herald significant manufacturing and operational cost savings. Much of the philosophy surrounding the JAF would later be incorporated into JAST, such as its single-engine design and its unprecedented level of commonality.

The Joint Advanced Strike Technology (JAST) Program was initiated in late 1993 as a result of the DoD Bottom-Up-Review (BUR). The major tactical aviation results of the BUR were to continue the ongoing F-22 and F/A-18E/F programs, cancel the Multi-Role Fighter (MRF) and the A/F-X programs, curtail F-16 and F/A-18C/D procurement and initiate the JAST Program. The JAST program office was established on 27 January 1994. Its mission was to define and develop aircraft, weapon, and sensor technology that would support the future development of tactical aircraft. The program subsequently moved from a broad, all-encompassing program to one that would develop a common family of aircraft to replace several aging US and UK aircraft.

By the end of 1994, the JAST program had absorbed the DARPA Common Affordable Lightweight Fighter (CALF) program. CALF, then renamed ALF, became the primary focus of JAST. However, JAST was also considering modifying the CTOL versions of the aircraft to perform in a STOVL role. Congress subsequently mandated the merger of JAST with the DARPA Advanced Short Take-Off / Vertical Landing program. As JAST was already considering STOVL variants, this merger was accommodated with comparatively little disruption. The JAST Program initially explored a wide range of potential strike warfare concepts using six-month, Concept Exploration (CE) study contracts awarded in May 1994. The findings of the CE studies showed that a "tri-service family" of aircraft was the most affordable solution to the collective joint-service needs. The tri-service family would entail a single basic airframe design with three distinct variants: Conventional Take-Off and Landing (CTOL) for the U.S. Air Force to complement the F-22 Raptor and replace the aging F-16 Fighting Falcon and the A-10 Thunderbolt; Short Take-Off/Vertical Landing (STOVL) for the U.S. Marine Corps to replace both the AV-8B Harrier and the F/A-18 C/D Hornet; and a Carrier (CV) variant for the U.S. Navy to complement the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet. 

Following numerous trade studies, two critical decisions were made: the JAST family of aircraft would be single-crew and single-engine. Navy attack/fighter aircraft have been preferred to have two engines in case one is lost during flight. The choice of a single-crew aircraft was accepted - subject to continued studies and appropriate technology maturation - on the projection that a single crewmember could perform all of the intended missions.

Boeing, Lockheed Martin, McDonnell Douglas, and Northrop Grumman were each awarded fifteen-month Concept Definition and Design Research (CDDR) contracts in December 1994. Northrop Grumman and McDonnell Douglas/British Aerospace teamed shortly after the CDDR contracts were awarded. The contractors refined their Preferred Weapons System Concept (PWSC) designs and performed a number of risk reduction activities (e.g., wind tunnel tests, powered-model STOVL tests, and engineering analyses). 

In the spring of 1995, all three of the contractor teams selected derivatives of the Pratt & Whitney (P&W) F119 engine to power their aircraft. Accordingly, in November 1995, P&W was awarded a contract for preliminary design of each of the primary JSF engine concepts. Concurrently, General Electric was awarded a contract to investigate whether the GE F110 or YF120 could be developed into an alternate engine for one or more of the JSF variants. In 1996, the YF120 was identified as the "best fit" for a tri-service solution and GE initiated preliminary design efforts.

Several Defense Acquisition Board (DAB)-level program reviews were conducted in late 1995. The final Requests for Proposal (RFP) were issued to the contractors in March 1996. By that time the JAST program name had changed to Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). 

In May 1996, JSF was designated an Acquisition Category I, DoD acquisition program. In June, the weapon system prime contractors submitted their Concept Demonstration Phase (CDP) proposals. A formal Milestone I Acquisition Decision Memorandum was signed by the Under Secretary of Defense (Acquisition & Technology) on 15 November 1996, clearing the way for the award of CDP prime contracts to Boeing and Lockheed Martin on 16 November 1996.

In October of 2001, Lockheed Martin was awarded the sole Engineering & Manufacturing Development (EMD) contract to begin developing and producing the Joint Strike Fighter for the U.S. and its allies. The U.S. Air Force will be the largest JSF customer, purchasing 1763 CTOL aircraft. The U.S. Marine Corps is expected to purchase 609 STOVL aircraft, and the U.S. Navy about 480 CV aircraft. The U.K. Royal Air Force and Royal Navy will purchase 150 of the STOVL variant.


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This page was last updated on 09/05/09 .