The US Air Force’s New 6th Generation NGAD Fighter: Any Problems Ahead?
The US Air Force’s sixth-generation fighter might be trickier to acquire than previously thought. At the beginning of June, the news was good for the Next Generation Air Dominance family of aircraft or NGAD systems. The program had entered a new phase of production that would put the NGAD on track to be unveiled in 2030 and begin to replace the F-22.
Now the Secretary of the Air Force is putting the brakes on that schedule, and he admits he may not be ready that soon.
Air Force civilian boss says give us more time
air force secretary Frank Kendall discussed the NGAD program at the Air & Space Forces Association on June 24. “The NGAD we’re working on right now…is going to take longer,” Kendall said, according to Air Force Magazine. “It’s not a simple design.”
Don’t forget how expensive it will be
The NGAD is also expensive. kendall told Congress in April that each NGAD fighter could cost the Air Force several hundred million dollars. So far, lawmakers are funding the program. Since 2015, Congress has approved approximately $4.2 billion for the NGAD.
The “system of systems” shows its potential
The NGAD will not be a traditional manned fighter, but a “system of systems”. Joseph Trevithick in the War Zone described it as being composed of “new weapons, sensors, networks and combat management capabilities”.
The aerial quarterback will lead the team
The lead aircraft could also be unmanned. The plans are for him to be a “quarterback” in the sky and “calling plays,” as Kendall described him. This would fall under theLoyal Winger“concept of drones flying in formation with the fighter to wage electronic warfare to jam enemy air defenses or feed target acquisition data back to the primary aircraft. This “faithful” drone could be the XQ-58A Valkyrie which is in development with the Air Force Research Lab and Defense of Kratos.
It’s gonna be a slog to build it
Kendall said it would be “long and hard work” to develop this concept. The Air Force Secretary was coy when asked if the contract was offered to a single prime contractor or if the NGAD would be a competition among multiple vendors. Kendall said, “We always have competition,” without being more specific.
Is he really hitting milestones?
[1945[1945announced June 4th that the NGAD had entered a critical engineering, manufacturing and development (EMD) phase that was supposed to put it on schedule for the 2030 timeline. It is unclear how far NGAD development will deviate from this suspense date.
The technology demonstrator may have already flown
There are would have a previously flown NGAD prototype, possibly with an airframe without a tail and capable of long-range flight with stealth and the ability to handle a large weapons payload.
This does not mean a cancellation
The Secretary of the Air Force’s latest admissions are not a hurdle for the program. Kendall will likely release more details in future congressional testimony. NGAD is a vague project that seems to be regularly associated with different stages. This can make monitoring the acquisition piece of the puzzle more difficult.
It’s still an exciting, albeit mysterious, program. The “sixth generation” looks attractive and, if carried out, will help prevent the United States from falling behind Russia and China in the race to be the best in the skies.
Now as 1945 Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. EastwoodPhD, is the author of Humans, Machines and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an emerging threat expert and former US Army infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.