The U.S. Air Force is not looking to replace the Lockheed Martin [LMT] 187 F-22s one-for-one with the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) family of systems, but rather will determine mission sets for NGAD to generate NGAD requirements numbers, a service official said on Aug. 12.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown has said that the service plans to neck down from seven fighter types–the Lockheed Martin F-16, F-35A, and F-22 and the Boeing [BA] F-15C, F-15D, F-15E and A-10–to “four plus one,” NGAD, the F-35A, the A-10, the F-15EX, and the F-16 or a possible replacement.
“I’m not able to share [NGAD] specific numbers, but I will tell you the way we view this–the way the chief and even [Air Combat Command Commander] Gen. [Mark] Kelly views it is–we’re looking at what mission sets, what are the capability gaps, what mission sets do we need so we’ll generate the level of numbers and how the systems capabilities come about to support that,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Dale White, the program executive officer for fighters and advanced aircraft, told reporters on Aug. 12.
“The key piece is the balance between where we are with F-22, both from a modernization perspective as well as when we think we’ll have an NGAD ready,” White said. Service officials have said that the F-22 may retire in the 2030s.
In fiscal 2022, the Air Force requests more than $1.5 billion for NGAD–a $623 million increase from the fiscal 2021 enacted amount.
The Air Force and the Pentagon Office of Cost Assessment and Program Assessment (CAPE) have been conducting a tactical aircraft study on the service’s future fighter needs–an undertaking that may recommend a significant reduction in the service’s planned buy of 1,763 F-35As (Defense Daily, Feb. 17).
In June, Brown told the House Armed Services Committee’s tactical air and land forces panel that “ideally” NGAD should be multirole but that NGAD “is really focused more…on a hotly contested environment to have the weapons load–both air-to-air, primarily, but some air-to-ground capability to ensure it can survive, but also provide options for our air component commanders and the joint force.”
At the Air Force Association (AFA) virtual Air, Space and Cyber Conference last September, then-Air Force acquisition chief Will Roper said that the full scale NGAD flight demonstrator had flown and “broken a lot of records in the doing” (Defense Daily, Sept. 15).
While the Air Force has declined to release the name or names of the NGAD contractors, Lockheed Martin is at the top of the list of companies suspected as builders.
On Aug. 10, Lockheed Martin said that it had completed construction of a 215,000 square foot advanced manufacturing plant in Palmdale, Calif., the headquarters of the company’s Skunk Works classified development business unit.
Roper envisioned NGAD as being part of a Digital Century Series (DCS) of aircraft that features frequent, spiral development.
The Air Force has looked to reduce sustainment costs by up to 49 percent and modification costs by up to 81 percent in DCS–funding that the service could re-distribute to gain a 39 percent increase in procurement dollars and a 14 percent gain in research and development dollars. The service also has looked for DCS to halve the time between major fighter modifications from 11 years to six and to halve the average aircraft age in a 30-year procurement cycle from 16 years to eight.