Unmanned and Unstoppable: NGAD's Quest to Redefine Fighter Aviation

The United States Air Force has officially launched the search for a strategic partner to carry out the ambitious Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) project, with the aim of developing a sixth-generation fighter to succeed the iconic F-22 Raptor.

Although the F-22 remains an unparalleled air superiority platform, the Air Force recognizes the need to adapt to ongoing technological advances and anticipate a future in which the F-22 will become obsolete.

Looking for a successor to the F-22 Raptor

Aware of the importance of avoiding mistakes made during the development of the F-35, the Air Force has begun the replacement process and has solicited confidential bids from industry contractors.

Unmanned and Unstoppable: NGAD's Quest to Redefine Fighter Aviation

The goal is to reach a collaboration agreement for the design and development of the NGAD throughout the year 2024. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall has made it clear that the primary goal is to avoid the delays and cost overruns experienced during the F-35 program.

Lessons Learned from the F-35 Program

The F-35 program suffered numerous setbacks and challenges between the time it was awarded the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) tender in 2001 and its operational deployment in 2018. These issues were primarily related to Total System Performance (TSP) and turnout.

US must ramp up F-35 production to maintain air superiority

The TSP approach gave Lockheed Martin, the project lead contractor, greater flexibility in overseeing and executing the F-35 design and production, with the goal of reducing redundancies and unnecessary costs. However, the lack of government oversight led to poor development practices, delays, and increased program costs.

Challenges for the NGAD

In addition to the TSP challenges, the F-35 program was also impacted by concurrency, which involves starting production while testing and evaluations are underway. Although this strategy may speed up production line start-up and customer delivery, it proved detrimental to the F-35.

Flaws discovered during tests and evaluations required costly adaptations in the finished aircraft. In addition, deficiencies were found in the manufacturing process, which caused delays and increased costs.

Frank Kendall has expressed the Air Force’s determination to avoid repeating mistakes made in the F-35 program. He stressed the importance of gaining full control over the fighter’s maintenance data, thus avoiding the creation of a perpetual monopoly for the winning contractor of the NGAD program. The goal is to learn from past poor procurement practices and ensure that the NGAD is developed efficiently and effectively.

The innovative approach of the NGAD

The Air Force has revealed some additional details about the NGAD. This sixth-generation fighter will face significant challenges, such as Anti-Access/Area Denial strategies, which rely on the use of early warning aircraft and long-range munitions to deny the United States and its allies air superiority without restrictions. To counter this threat, the NGAD will incorporate multiple innovative technologies.

One of the most prominent features of the NGAD is its focus on the use of collaborative unmanned aerial vehicles or drones and combat aircraft. Unlike manned individual aircraft, NGAD will take advantage of the synergy between unmanned aircraft and piloted fighters to meet current and future air combat challenges. This new vision of air combat will provide flexibility, response capacity and greater operational efficiency for the Air Force.

The future of NGAD

The goal of the US Air Force is to deploy the NGAD fighters by the end of this decade. Despite the challenges inherent in such a complex project, the NGAD is expected to significantly advance the country’s air combat capability and ensure air superiority in future conflict scenarios.

Frequent questions

What is the goal of the NGAD project?

The NGAD project aims to develop a sixth-generation fighter to succeed in the F-22 Raptor and ensure air superiority in future conflict scenarios.

What are the main challenges facing the NGAD?

The NGAD faces significant challenges, such as Anti-Access/Area Denial strategies, which seek to deny air superiority to the United States and its allies.

How is NGAD different from its predecessors?

One of the main differences of the NGAD is its focus on the use of drones and collaborative combat aircraft, taking advantage of the synergy between them to improve air combat capability.

What are the lessons learned from the F-35 program?

The F-35 program faced challenges related to Total System Performance and concurrency, which led to delays and increased costs. These lessons are being taken into account for the development of the NGAD.

When are the NGAD fighters expected to be deployed?

The US Air Force aims to deploy NGAD fighters by the end of this decade, but it is recognized as a complex and challenging project.