The U.S. Air Force is asking for defense companies’ input on whether they are able to build “next generation aerial targets” to mimic fifth generation potential adversary fighters, such as the Chinese FC-31 and PL-20 and the Russian Su-57.

The Air Force goal is to have aerial targets with a suite of radio frequency (RF) emitters, electronic attack (EA) features, and expendables, such as chaff and flares, to emulate the advanced potential adversary aircraft–a suite with a development cost of less than $300,000 and a unit cost of less than $10 million.

“Numerous and varied threats throughout the world, plus tighter defense budgets, drive the need for new and innovative solutions toward the development of an appropriate suite of Next Generation Aerial Target presentation solutions to support test, training and tactics development,” according to an Air Force business notice.  “The suite may comprise either clean-sheet designs, modifications to previously developed capabilities or both. The suite should comprise destructible and reusable aerial assets as well as manned and unmanned assets.”

“The 5th generation representative target suite should be able to provide—as a single target or as a combination of target presentations—a remotely-controlled, destructible asset with threat representative RF Emissions, EA Emissions, Radar Cross Section (RCS) signature, Infrared (IR) signature, and internally carried expendables,” per the notice. “Destructible target solutions are expected to have a minimum service life of 10 flights, with a 30-flight hour lifetime average before being destroyed. Remotely-controlled targets must be capable of autonomous operation, either under remote control by a human operator, autonomously by onboard computers, or any combination of the two methods.”

While the Air Force considers next-generation targets, on Nov. 23 the service awarded Boeing [BA] a nearly $50 million contract for support of its QF-16 Block 25 and Block 30 full-scale aerial targets (FSATs).

Boeing has modification lines in Arizona and Cecil Field, Fla., to convert retired F-16 fighters to unmanned QF-16s for use in air-to-air weapons system evaluation program (WSEP) testing by the 83rd Fighter Weapons Squadron at Tyndall AFB, Fla. The company said it began modifying retired F-16s to QF-16s in 2015 and that the Air Force has contracted to modify more than 120 F-16s.

QF-16s have been a significant part of testing for Lockheed Martin‘s [LMT] Joint Advanced Tactical Missile (JATM), which the Air Force has looked to field as early as this fiscal year.

The Air Force and the Navy are to field JATM on the Lockheed Martin F-22, the Boeing F/A-18E/F, and the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter aircraft.

In 2019, the Air Force announced it was developing JATM to counter the Chinese-made PL-15 air-to-air missile (Defense Daily, June 20, 2019). JATM is to have a longer range than the Raytheon Technologies [RTX] Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) AIM-120D. While the Air Force has divulged little about JATM and has said that its capabilities are classified, defense analysts have said that the missile will likely have a speed of Mach 4 to 5 and a range of 120 to 150 miles.

While the Air Force said earlier this year that the first JATM flight test would occur this year, JATM flight testing appears to stretch back to Feb. 13, 2019 when the missile clocked 5.5 flying hours, according to “sortie recaps” posted on the federal government’s business notice web page.

The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s (AFLCMC) Armament Directorate at Eglin AFB, Fla., said last April that JATM is in the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase (Defense Daily, Apr. 15).

“The program will leverage advanced propulsion technology to improve the range and time of flight of the JATM as compared to inventory air-to-air weapons,” the directorate said in April. “Details of the acquisition program and flight test schedule are classified.  Production timelines are dependent on the successful completion of the EMD phase. Funding information is classified at this time. The specific criteria for Initial Operational Capability (IOC) declaration, along with the criteria for Full Operational Capability (FOC), will be determined within the DAF [Department of the Air Force] and the DON [Department of the Navy] at a future date.”