The US Navy’s secretive next-generation fighter program has completed refinement of the concept and moved into the design maturation phase. At the same time, the service has officially announced the companies bidding for the contracts.

Confirming the long-awaited names, the Navy announced on Aug. 29 that Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman are in the race for the airframe, while GE Aerospace and Pratt & Whitney are competing for the engine.

The announcement comes after the US Air Force connected these companies with its independent Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) platform. In June, Northrop Grumman announced that he would not participate in the Air Force’s NGAD as a prime contractor.

In a statement to Aerospace DAILY, Tom Jones, president of Northrop Aeronautical Systems, says the company is continuing development work on the F/A-XX and is “well positioned” to pursue advanced aircraft programs based on its B-21 bomber, work on the F-35, components for the F/A-18 and the Navy’s E-2D Advanced Hawkeye.

“Our focus and investment in digital engineering, advanced manufacturing and legacy in the design and deployment of aircraft with advanced mission systems allows us to rapidly design, execute and maintain current and future systems,” says Jones.

Boeing noted in a statement recent investments in the company’s infrastructure, such as a series of new advanced production facilities at its St. Louis hub, to show how it is positioning itself for future fighter programs.

Boeing

“Boeing fighters are the backbone of today’s carrier air wing, and we are using what we have learned to inform the multi-billion-dollar strategic investment we are making in advanced open-mission systems and brand-new all-digital factories of the future,” says Steve Nordlund, vice president of air domain at Boeing. “We are fully committed to helping the US Navy achieve its vision for the future.”

The potential engine suppliers are the same for the Air Force program; However, the Navy has also been more secretive about this development. The Air Force is pursuing a Next Generation Adaptive Propulsion program for its NGAD.

During a panel discussion held Aug. 26 at the Tailhook Symposium, Commander Mark Cochran, F/A-XX requirements officer in the Navy’s Air Warfare Division N98, said the Navy is prioritizing operational range beyond the operational capacity of the program. This means a family of systems and collaborative fighter aircraft to counter advanced long-range threats.

The F/A-XX needs to use advanced weapons and data links, and planners are focused on the openings in the plane for detection and communications.

In July, the White House tied the F/A-XX program to a special access program in the budget called Link Plumeria. This classified program is the Pentagon’s fourth largest research and development program, with $11.5 billion for fiscal year 2023-27 included in the recent Department of Defense budget request.

brian everstine