The Air Force’s sixth-generation fighter has officially entered development, the Air Force’s top official confirmed today.
“We have now started an [engineering, manufacturing, and development] program to do the development aircraft that we’ll take into production,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said during an event at the Heritage Foundation. “We think we’ll have the capability by the end of the decade.”
“What we did was an experimental prototype,” Kendall said. “We basically had an X plane program which was designed to reduce the risk of some of the key technologies that we would need for a production program.”
“There were rumors that Boeing was not out of it. And the rebuttal to that rumor is that they can prototype, but can they really build a clean sheet combat aircraft?” he said. “If it’s Boeing, it implies that they’ve achieved a miracle. That’s why I’d probably go with Lockheed Martin.”
Earlier, these companies have refused to comment on any involvement in the NGAD program. Little information about NGAD has been revealed to the public in the past. Now, Air Force senior leaders have recently given some information on this.
In April, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown told reporters that the NGAD fighter’s flight control software had been decoupled from its mission system software.
Kendall told lawmakers that the NGAD fighter would cost “multiple hundreds of millions of dollars” per plane and would be accompanied by drones and other systems that are “not as expensive and give overall mission capability.”
The Air Force has yet to describe how many NGAD fighters it plans to buy to replace the 183 F-22 Raptors currently in operation, making it unclear whether NGAD will be “the next big aircraft program” or a “boutique production program” in line with the Digital Century Series acquisition strategy proposed by former acquisition executive Will Roper, Aboulafia said.
“The complication there is that [Kendall] may need a full production program, but cost [per unit] might get in the way,” Aboulafia said.
“The biggest implication for me, if you’re bringing it to EMD, is that it’s missionized,” Aboulafia said. “It’s not just a prototype [air vehicle].” That means that some integration work has likely already taken place, and an expensive new air superiority jet would likely have a huge list of suppliers, he said.