Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall announced the creation of the Aerospace Innovation Initiative in the fiscal year 2016 budget request, which would fund technology development and competitive prototyping of sixth-generation fighter jet engines and airframes.

The idea behind the initiative is to “position us for the next generation after F-35.”

The Marine Corps' short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B performs a vertical landing. Photo: Lockheed Martin.
The Pentagon’s FY ’16 budget request will include the first round of funding for the Aerospace Innovation Initiative, which will support technology development and competitive prototyping for an eventual sixth-generation fighter — whatever the military decides it needs after the fifth-generation F-35, above. Photo: Lockheed Martin.

“At some point we’re going to be doing things after the F-35,” he told reporters on Capitol Hill Wednesday. “Right now [F-35] is coming to the end of its development phase, so part of this is to keep those design teams that do that kind of work engaged, doing meaningful work; move the technology forward; reduce the lead time to the next generation of capabilities; and reduce the risk associated with the next generation.”

Kendall could not discuss the monetary investment in the initiative, since the budget request comes out next week, but he called the investment “significant.” He noted, though, that the Pentagon has a lot of needs to balance: a readiness shortfall, trying to keep force structure at a proper size, modernizing and maintaining platforms and investing in research for the future force. Doing so under sequestration will be challenging, but he said this innovation initiative is very important.

“Air dominance is so crucial to the way we project power, the way we fight. Control of the air is just a fundamental capability we have to have…Both the Chinese and the Russians are working on fifth-generation aircraft and a number of other things to enhance their air capabilities, so we need to keep moving forward as well,” he said.

During a hearing with the House Armed Services Committee, Kendall told lawmakers that “the Aerospace Innovation Initiative is consistent with one of the Better Buying Power 3.0 initiatives, prototyping and experimentation. What it will be is a program that will be initially led by DARPA but it will involve the Navy and the Air Force as well. The intent is to develop prototypes for the next-generation air-dominance platforms–the next plane programs, if you will. It will be competitive. The Navy and the Air Force will each have a variant that’s focused on their mission requirements. There will be a technology period leading up to the development of the prototype.”