NGAD Future Air Superiority Fighter Program on Track – The U.S. NGAD 6th-generation fighter just got a shot in the arm. President Joe Biden’s recent defense budget proposal is promising research and development funds for the newfangled warplane. This largesse could help the U.S. Air Force and Navy vault ahead of the Chinese and Russians. The Next-Generation Air Dominance program will produce the follow-on airplane to the F-22 the F/A-18 E/F and if early reports are accurate, the resulting fighter could become the king of the skies.
NGAD: Another Round of Funding In-Store
The FY23 defense budget proposal from the White House has pledged $9 billion for Air Force research and development, testing, and evaluation. NGAD’s line item is in this earmark and will get an undisclosed amount of funding. The Navy has its own NGAD program – a 6th-generation fighter to replace the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet (called F/A-XX). The defense budget proposal awarded research and development dollars for this project too, although the amount is classified for the third year in a row.
Beyond a Prototype?
The NGAD program is likely at this point more than a concept. There are reports that the Air Force has already built a flying prototype and took it on a test hop in September of 2020. Although details of the airplane are top secret.
Indeed, the prototype is likely more of a technology testbed and is not close to being a finished product. So far there are artist renderings and command aspirations that if true should result in an airplane unprecedented in its scope and innovation.
Artist Rendering Reminds Some of the YF-23
An image released by the Air Force shows a triangular-shaped warplane without a vertical tail. This design lends itself to internal weapons storage that should make it nuclear-capable with battlefield tactical nuclear weapons or nuclear-tipped cruise missiles. It has a resemblance to the YF-23 Black Widow II, which lost the competition to the F-22 for the last Air Force search for a stealth air superiority fighter.
Aerial Commander Leads “Family of Systems”
One exciting aspect of the NGAD is that it is supposed to be a “general in the air” that could lead autonomous stealth drones in a loyal wingman concept and feed targeting data to other airplanes such as the F-35 and F-22. The “general in the air” would be expected to have next-generation electronic warfare capabilities as well. The Air Force and Navy are calling this a “family of systems.”
“NGAD must be more than just the next crewed fighter jet. It’s a program that will include a crewed platform teamed with much less expensive autonomous un-crewed combat aircraft, employing a distributed, tailorable mix of sensors, weapons, and other mission equipment operating as a team or formation,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said.
Kendall also explained how the NGAD is part of his “seven operational imperatives” road map for the future of the Air Force. The NGAD, under this construct, is imperative for meeting the challenges of emerging threats from the Chinese and Russians. The ability to carry hypersonic missiles, for example, would fall under this rubric.
Make Sure It Passes Congressional Scrutiny
Kendall’s cheerleading will be necessary for the NGAD to keep its funding. The defense budget proposal has to wind its way through Congress for the FY23 National Defense Authorization Act and appropriation process. Kendall may have to give more details about NGAD in his unclassified and public testimony on Capitol Hill. But NGAD, since it is advancing beyond prototype to ground testing, is likely assured of enough funding to make it a breakthrough program in the coming years.
Now serving as 1945’s 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. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.