CSBA’s historical analysis of air-to-air combat, detailed in the 2015 report titled Trends in Air-to-Air Combat: Implications for Future Air Superiority by Dr. John Stillion, assessed how advances in sensor, weapons, and communication technologies have changed air combat. The analysis highlighted the trends that will likely shape future aerial combat landscapes, combat aircraft designs, and operational concepts.
These historically informed trends suggest that the ongoing transformation of aerial combat may steadily reduce the utility of some attributes traditionally associated with fighter aircraft (e.g., extreme speed and maneuverability) and increase the value of attributes not usually associated with fighter aircraft (e.g., sensor and weapon payload as well as range). As a result, an effective sixth-generation fighter aircraft may look similar to a future bomber or use a modified version of a bomber airframe—it may even be the same aircraft with its payload optimized for the air-to-air mission. The following video illustrates a possible future aerial combat battlescape where notional future enemy fighters with fifth-generation characteristics encounter friendly fighter aircraft developed for an evolved air-to-air combat concept of operation.