The U.S. military is always thinking ahead. It hasn't even gotten its fifth-generation fighter, the F-35, fully operational and it's already thinking about the sixth-generation fighter. This would replace the Air Force's F-22 and the Navy's F/A-18s in 2030.
Dubbed the F/A-XX by the Navy and the FX by the Air Force, this project has actually been going on for a few years. However, the companies involved are finally starting to give some hint as to what they'll involve.
Northrop Grumman, the maker of the B-2 bomber and plenty of other military hardware, is looking at a very long-range, supersonic cruising fighter that fires lasers. Here's the image it released showing what it might look like:
Oddly, Northrop doesn't consider the laser system to be the challenging part. Instead, it's concerned about managing the heat from the laser and engines, which is important in situations where the enemy has good infrared sensors.
Lasers seem to be a big selling point with the military right now, along with artificial intelligence. Many of the concepts being developed include partial AI to act as a co-pilot or even to take control of the plane during tricky maneuvers, such as carrier landings.
Boeing, maker of the current Navy workhorse the F/A-18, doesn't want to be left out either. Here's some concept art it released back in 2013 showing the direction it's taking in its design.
Obviously, from the plane down in the corner, it's looking at both manned and unmanned systems.
Whether or not these will actually arrive by 2030 is up in the air. The F-35 is already very delayed and overbudget thanks to bugs with its advanced sensors and control systems. Trying to bring a fighter to market that includes completely new technology like lasers is going to be even harder.