Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh doesn't know if the successor to the F-22 Raptor, the Air Force's fifth generation fighter, will fly.
"I don't even know that it's an airplane," Welsh told reporters Wednesday morning. "I wouldn't try and characterize it or describe it. I have no idea yet what it's going to look like, even is, whether it flies, or whether it's a combination of things — just don't know."
Welsh said that Air Force officials have to begin thinking about "what does air superiority look like 30 years from now" because the government doesn't react quickly enough to be prepared with the necessary technology if the research doesn't begin very far in advance.
Lockheed Martin, which made the F-22, would like the fighter's successor to have "greater speed, range, stealth and self-healing structures; developments that will require new breakthroughs in propulsion, materials, power generation and weapon technology," according to a 2012 report from Air Force Technology.
The development of the F-22 was undermined by high costs, though. "Alarmed by soaring costs, the Defense Department shut down production last year after spending $67.3 billion on just 188 planes -- leaving the Air Force to rely mainly on its fleet of 30-year-old conventional fighters," the Los Angeles Times noted in 2013.
"The Air Force began laying plans to build the F-22 in the early 1980s. A decade later, it estimated it would take nine years and $12.6 billion to develop the jet, but it ended up taking 19 years and costing $26.3 billion, not including the production of any aircraft. By the time production was completed, the F-22 cost an average of $412 million each, up from the original estimate of $149 million."