Agreed. But I still think a longer range fighter airframe will need to happen. However upgrading the F-35 won't cut it since the airframe is at its limits as it is. Even if you redesign it the engine it does not have enough power for the air superiority role. That will require a twin engine aircraft. Hence the F/A XX.I like the work produced by Bryan Clark because he focusses on strategic matters on the chess board. However in the story mentioned in Aviation week, I think he is off course. The premise of the story is based off Clark's research article published in CSBA in December of last year titled "REGAINING THE HIGH GROUND AT SEA: Transforming the U.S. Navy’s Carrier Air Wing for Great Power Competition".
IMO, Clark is conflating two issues, viz : range and the need for a naval air superiority fighter through a remodeled F-35C. First off, the air superiority role was to be an outcome of the F/A XX program and not from the JSF program. Secondly, the issue of range in the Western Pacific is a geographical reality and the solution is not necessarily going for greater range in the airframe. It is an asymmetrical cost equation that cannot be won. The A2D2 bubble will continue to grow with ever increasing missile range and will easily outpace economically whatever increasing range that can be put on a plane. All you end up is ever increasing cost and a degrading sortie generation rate. The solution is not conventional but outside the box.
What they can do is to reduce the requirements on the engines to use technology close to the F-35 engine's technology level. That would speed up the program. It also might mean they could pool resources with the USAF or foreign partners for their long range fighter requirement to replace the F-15.
If they share as much of the F-35 avionics as possible, plus the engines, the design cost shouldn't be that high.
One of the defense contractors could probably design it with their own budget.
This is basically what happened with the F-14 program which basically reused sensors and weapon systems from a cancelled aircraft together with existing engines on a whole new airframe for the naval task.
If I was designing this stop-gap F/A XX I would make it have long internal bays similar to the Su-57. Long and large enough to carry at least 4x Meteor missiles in them.
Or to carry at least two air launched cruise missiles internally.