Next-Gen Air Force Fighter Moves to Critical Initial Stage

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Last week, the Secretary of the Air Force, Frank Kendall, updated progress on the Air Force’s highly classified and top secret fighter program is about to begin its most important engineering and manufacturing developmental phase.

At a recent Heritage Foundation meeting, Kendall intimated that the Air Force had initially begun experimental prototyping on the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) project in 2015.  Kendall was the top acquisition official for the Pentagon at the time.  Effectively, he says, this X-plane program aimed to specifically reduce and develop the new technologies they will need for the new NGAD production program.

Since that time, Kendall notes, technology has made great strides.  He goes to explain how the vision for the NGAD project has evolved into a “family of systems” that will incorporate many different elements.  This list includes several autonomous drone aircraft that can accompany manned aircraft when flying in formation.

Typically, Air Force acquisition program projects take about seven years before progressing from EMD phase all the way to primary operating capability.  In some ways then, the NGAD project is perfectly on track.  However, while much work has been done, the face that they only recently started the EMD phase, this project will definitely take a bit longer.

Kendall explains, “The clock really didn’t start in 2015; it’s starting roughly now.  We think we’ll have the capability by the end of the decade.”

That said, NGAD might be the most expensive aircraft development program in US history. Indeed, Kendall has also revealed that just one piloted aircraft manufactured through this program could cost a few million dollars each.  As a matter of fact, the Air Force had initially requested $1.7 billion for NGAD funding in the fiscal budget for 2023.  This includes at least $133 million for research, development, testing, and evaluation.