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NGAD: The 6th Generation Stealth Fighter That Could Change Everything

YF-23 stealth fighter, which could inspire the design of the NGAD.

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.

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.



  1. tired

    March 31, 2022 at 10:19 am

    Oh god no. The Air Force continues to fail to acknowledge, much less learn from, it’s catastrophic mistakes, both in judgement and execution, from the albatross F-35 program. We don’t need to feed the USAF another dime for a new platform until they get their collective heads out of their fourth point of contact in the senior ranks of what is easily the worst run of all of our branches of service.

  2. Jerry Cavanaugh

    March 31, 2022 at 12:29 pm

    Well looks like we got someone who knows all so id say u know this to be a fact why you need to run for office of some sort being how you have got everything figured out,hum why are all these countries buying the F35 of different sorts ??? Just curious…

  3. Booger Eater

    March 31, 2022 at 1:24 pm

    I think the real need isn’t for a new, more capable aircraft development program, but for cost reduction research on the phenomenal air superiority vehicle we already have in the F-22. If we could make them cheaply, like the F-16, we would have a real winner.

  4. Julius Rosen

    March 31, 2022 at 4:37 pm

    Why can’t we just said the computers and software to the current airframes we have? I would like to see a thousand units produced I’m putting to all of our aircraft

  5. Jacksonian Libertarian

    March 31, 2022 at 5:54 pm

    It is becoming harder to justify a manned combat aircraft. Declaring them quarterbacks of the sky is a Pilot’s marketing gimmick, not a justification, as calling the plays can be done better from safety.

    America’s air defense shouldn’t be held hostage by the Pilot’s lust to fly high performance aircraft.

    If you have autonomous stealth drones, you don’t need manned combat aircraft holding them back by limiting them to squishy human levels of performance and risk.

    Cheap, extremely long ranged, stealthy, autonomous drones by the thousands, that’s what will win wars.

  6. tired

    April 1, 2022 at 3:24 am

    @Jerry Why are all of the other countries buying the F35 if it’s so bad? When another country sinks well over $1 trillion into the R&D and you just have to buy it, and you never had a superior platform like the F22 in the first place, then it makes some sense. We paid a hefty price, dismantled our ability to build any more of the best fighter ever, and significantly increased our operating cost per hour with this. The financial impact vs capability impact doesn’t factor the same for any other nations as it does for us.

    @Boogereater…there will never be another F22 made. Every time one falls out of the sky, it can’t / won’t be replaced. We dismantled our production capability well before we even got the F35 remotely close to the finish line. Another example of incompetence and terrible judgement by senior USAF officials

  7. Jason Dean

    April 1, 2022 at 4:39 am

    The NGAD program is being brought forward. They are retiring just under half of the f22 fighters and buying less f35s. Instead they will be buying more f-18 super hornet ex’s. This is a good idea, as the f-18 is a proven fighter jet, where as the f22 and f-35 are so expensive to maintain per hour of flight. They’ve also realised that designing a jet, just purely for stealth, means too many compromises, and even then, they can be by detected by Chinese and Russian, low frequency radar systems.

  8. VeraX Knives

    April 2, 2022 at 6:00 am

    @tired I’m also tired of idiots thinking they’re smart. Unfortunately it’s not going to get any better soon. Accept it. It’s hard, I know. But it’s necessary.

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