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NGAD: Why the Air Force Has Big Plans for a New Stealth Fighter

US Air Force image of possible NGAD Concept. Image Credit: US Air Force.
US Air Force image of possible NGAD Concept. Image Credit: US Air Force.

Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD): How Will the Air Force Build a New Stealth Fighter? Does the Air Force Need a New Stealth Fighter? – Does the U.S. military really need a next-generation fighter? The Chinese and Russians are supposedly developing a 6th-generation warplane and the United States doesn’t want to finish in last place, so to speak. But could some of that money, time, effort, and resources be better spent optimizing the F-22 and F-35? That’s one way of thinking, but Air Force brass doesn’t agree. The commanding general of Air Force Combat Command said in October of last year that the 6th-generation fighter is his number one priority.

Air Force Leadership Says America Needs to Stand and Deliver the New Fighter

General Mark D. Kelly, speaking at a Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies event, said that the Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) airplane must fight in the enemy’s back yard. Kelly sees the NGAD as connecting the dots on all the parts of the Air Force’s future air superiority battle doctrine.

Kelly shared even more ambitious thoughts on the NGAD at a conference in September. He said the Pentagon needs to approach the development of the 6th generation fighter in the same manner as the United States executed the Manhattan Project for creating the atomic bomb during World War Two.

How Far Along Is the NGAD?

Not much is known about the NGAD fighter. A “secret prototype” reportedly flew in 2020. The NGAD has been hyped as a long-range aircraft with “digital engineering, agile software development, and open architectures,” according to an Air Force report released earlier this year. The Air Force claims that the NGAD is proceeding according to schedule.

Concept art shows a diamond-shape and dual engines with large internal weapons bays housing multi-role munitions to strike ground targets. The airplane is believed to be able to lead a network-centric aerial combat operation that would link drones and other fighters such as the F-22 and F-35.

The Price Tag Is High

A “whole of nation” effort to make the next generation fighter will be up to Congress and the White House. So far the legislative branch is cooperating. NGAD was allocated a whopping $955 million in the FY20 National Defense Authorization Act. In FY21, the NGAD got its full funding request of $904 million.

Here is the challenge: we’re getting close to a billion dollars a year for a program that the public knows little about. The Air Force is saying “trust us we’ll build it.” The generals and acquisition officers are asking for the moon but are offering few details. It’s understandable that the American program is secretive. Russia and China are potentially leaping ahead with their next 6th generation fighters. Press reports keep circulating about China’s efforts. Russia has its planned 6th generation MiG-41 fighter. although Moscow’s track record on deploying new weapons platforms in mass or at all is not exactly a good indicator.

Can the Americans Beat the Chinese and Russians?

Once you figure in the cost of developing hypersonic missiles, as several reports suggest NGAD will be armed with, this fighter plane arms race is concerning. What if the Russian and Chinese 6th generation fighters are vaporware? Both countries are known for over-hyping future weapons systems. If that’s the case, perhaps the Americans could win the race. With all the funding, it should be more than a technology demonstrator by the end of 2022. Hopefully, then we will have a better picture of what the NGAD really is.

Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, Ph.D., is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.