After years of speculation, the United States Air Force (USAF) has officially confirmed that there will be only one Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) in the future. Air Force Secretary, Frank Kendall made USAF’s position clear during a meeting in Washington D.C.
“We’re not going to do two NGADs. We’re only going to do one,” he stated, according to John Tirpak of Air and Space Forces. While the finalists for winning the contract are currently unknown, top contenders will likely be a mix of Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman, with support from competing jet engine manufacturers Pratt & Whitney and General Electric.
The goal of this NGAD program is to replace the Air Force’s F-22A Raptor stealth fighters by the 2030s. The F-22 fleet, despite its exceptional agility and stealth capabilities, has become very expensive to maintain and upgrade due to outdated non-open architecture systems and 1990s radar absorbent materials technology, which require high maintenance.
In pursuit of this objective, the Air Force recently requested designs for an NGAD fighter, and the winning concept will be announced in 2024. In an ideal case scenario, the Air Force will aim to acquire 250 of these fighters besides the fact that each unit is expected to come with a substantial price tag in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
To put things into perspective, the current F-35A stealth fighter costs approximately $85 million due to its large-scale production. And in contrast to this, the NGAD fighter is anticipated to feature improved sensors and communication links compared to the F-22, while also exhibiting greater agility than the F-35.
Over the next five years, the Air Force plans to invest $16 billion in the research, development, testing, and evaluation of NGAD. The objective is to create a future warplane with significantly lower operating costs than the F-22s and, ideally, the F-35s.
Additionally, Kendall highlighted that the Pentagon aims to avoid the concentration of NGAD ownership in a single manufacturer, which has previously led to intellectual property (IP) disputes with Lockheed, the manufacturer of the F-35.
The NGAD program’s ultimate goal is for the government to retain intellectual property rights for various aircraft systems from the outset. This approach will allow the incorporation of new technologies from different companies and facilitate the development of prompt solutions without the burden of legal challenges.
Furthermore, it’s important to note that there are two distinct programs named “Next Generation Air Dominance.” Interestingly enough both the programs carry the same name but the program led by the U.S. Navy focuses on replacing the FA-18E/F Super Hornet carrier-based fighters in the future.
For the USAF, NGAD will specialize in air-to-air combat akin to the F-22, while also possessing ground attack capabilities, particularly for the suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD). Moreover, it is expected that NGAD will feature a higher internal weapon capacity compared to the F-22.