YF-23 Development as the FA-XX: Design Modification Proposals
As an air combat platform the YF-23 was the equal of, if not better than, its competitor the YF-22. The proven YF-23 design should be modified to become the FA-XX. Such an aircraft would provide the US Navy with a replacement long range Air Superiority Fighter for the F-14D Super Tomcat.
Development of the aircraft should be led by Northrop/Grumman engineers, not generalist managers, in conjunction with SAAB, in order to create the new aircraft. SAAB must be included in the development process because of their success with the Gripen - an aircraft that is designed to be easy to maintain and upgrade. Manufacture should be at one location, allowing easy oversight of production, and not shopped all over the country for political reasons.
The initial aim would be to incorporate many existing top-of-the-line systems, taking advantage of proven technology, in order to speed development of the 'A' model. Technology from the latest variants of the F-15K/SA(Advanced), that include two seat cockpit variants, and undercarriage from the Super Hornet, should be considered. An IRST system is a necessity that include significant rear (and side) facing sensors. For ground attack missions the aircraft would employ a modified targeting pod fitted into one half of the forward weapons bay. This 'A' model aircraft would not employ radar absorbent paint which creates difficulties in terms of maintenance. Later models, or specialist USAF variants, can feature such complexity. The 'B' model aircraft should incorporate a fully developed variable cycle engine. All design models should allow for the addition of conformal fuel tanks.
To ensure high levels of serviceability the aircraft must also be required to operate in 'rough field' conditions, in dispersed locations, where maintenance will be supplied by two trucks or a C-130.
Major structural modifications to the original YF-23 design would see the separation between the engines increased to allow for an extended weapons bay, and the (possible) addition of canard/leading edge extensions - which would function within the subsonic flight envelope. The aircraft might feature a blown wing or a large air brake in order to lower landing speeds.
The basic USN design changes to the YF-23 can be seen in the following image (note the extended undercarriage):
An Air Force version would (potentially) delete the canards:
This is an alternative weapons bay arrangement that places the short range air to air missiles in outboard positions.
This is the original YF-23 design for comparison (see below). Please note that all modifications on this page are proposals that would need to be fully assessed. They are presented here as a conceptual exercise, intended to stimulate serious debate on this issue (of revisiting the YF-23, a proven Air Superiority design - an aircraft that is sorely needed in the face of emerging threats from Russia and China).
Other operators of the type could include the UK, Canada, Japan, and Australia. Each of these countries could acquire up to 100 airframes with a targeted cost of around 150 million each. In terms of pricing, as part of the initial contracting process, the US Navy should require the finished aircraft, to meet or exceed design specifications at the cost of 150 million each, with a clause to buy a further 30% more airframes if this price is met. If the price exceeds the original contract target by more than 10% this extra airframe option should be voided. If excess aircraft are bought they could be stored, loaned to allies, and/or upgraded at a later date.
A further radical design change, for a later F-23 variant could see a reworking of the aft section of the airframe to allow for 2D or 3D thrust vectoring, to help point the nose of the aircraft in low speed situations. Such modifications should only be incorporated after the 'A' model has entered service.
The Naval Advanced Tactical Fighter (NATF) promotional video from the YF-23 team
USAF ATF - Northrop YF-23 Black Widow II