Pentagon’s $300 Million Sixth Generation Dream Plane: NGAD On the Chopping Block?

The US Air Force considers abandoning its next-generation fighter jet program due to budget constraints and contractor issues.

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Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany with manufacturing units in Russia. He is Consulting Editor Industry and Defense at Frontier India.

The U.S. Air Force may discontinue the program to develop a sixth-generation fighter.

The NGAD project envisages the creation of a long-range crewed fighter jet that is intended to operate in highly contested environments in the Indo-Pacific region, where China is perceived as the primary military threat to U.S. forces. It is expected to be equipped with sophisticated sensors and weapons payloads. NGAD’s primary objective will be to establish air superiority, serving as a replacement for the fifth-generation F-22 Raptor.

The American military portal Defense One reports that the Chief of Staff General David Alwin, a four-star general, refused to commit to the development of the futuristic Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) aircraft during the U.S. Air Force Association conference. This program was previously the service’s top priority for air dominance.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall stated in a recent interview with Aviation Week that the Air Force is being compelled to reevaluate its NGAD plans due to budget constraints.

In its FY ’25 budget request, the Air Force sought $2.7 billion for the NGAD platform, indicating that it intended to allocate $19.6 billion to the aircraft over the next five years. Previously, officials have estimated that a single jet would cost approximately $300 million.

Only budget? What About the Contractors?

However, the publication notes that the Air Force leaders’ statements that they may not build the next-generation fighter are a result of the Lockheed Martin F-35 program’s delays and Boeing’s quality issues.

The country’s foremost aerospace companies, including industry leaders such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman, will engage in fierce competition for the lucrative multibillion-dollar contract for this innovative project. Lockheed Martin is anticipated to be the main contender for this multibillion-dollar contract. Lockheed Martin has previously secured contracts to develop the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II, which were part of the previous generation of fighters.

Mark Gunzinger, Director of Future Aerospace Concepts and Capability Assessments at the Mitchell Institute, predicts that the platform will feature enhanced stealth, a substantially greater range, and more potent weaponry. He emphasized that no weapon system presently in the United States can effectively establish air dominance in the region, as the military portal DefenseScoop reported.

In an email to DefenseScoop, Gunzinger pointed out that canceling NGAD would cause the air superiority forces to fall further behind China and significantly impact all future U.S. military operations.

Richard Aboulafia, managing director of the aerospace consulting firm AeroDynamic Advisory, explained to Defense One that the Air Force may be hesitant to implement NGAD due to the truly unfavorable choices they face. Despite its intention to do so, Boeing has yet to replace the worst senior management team in history and has, at best, a bleak track record in almost everything over the past few years. Alternatively, Lockheed Martin has absolutely no incentive to implement this in a cost-effective manner. Aboulafia predicts that the Pentagon will continue to operate Lockheed F-35 aircraft, bringing even more revenue to the defense giant.

The Pentagon halted the procurement of new F-35s in July of last year due to issues with the Technology Refresh-3 hardware and software, which resulted in a $1.8 billion expenditure.

Richard Aboulafia said that American generals are understandably infuriated that these issues have not been resolved in the nearly one year that has passed since then.

Unsurprisingly, Lockheed Martin’s corporate airfield is experiencing a shortage of parking space due to the swiftly expanding fleet of fifth-generation F-35 fighters, which the Pentagon is refusing to accept. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) provided this information.

According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Pentagon is confronted with challenges when it comes to defective aircraft that are stationed at Lockheed. This is because the contract stipulates that the government is responsible for the risk of loss for aircraft that are “in the open,” a risk that is contingent upon the contractor’s share of the losses and the contract’s deductible.

Rob Wittman, a Republican Congressman from Virginia, stated that the airstrip will be crowded with at least over 100 aircraft.

Boeing’s production defects in its aircraft products are disregarded, its safety culture is ineffectual, and its accident rates are alarming. Even astronauts are stuck in space because of Boeing quality issues.

The Pentagon is indeed faced with a difficult decision: either to entrust the development of the sixth-generation fighter to Lockheed, which will build the aircraft but leave it incomplete and require several decades to address the few thousand identified defects, or to Boeing, whose employees will assemble a flying coffin and subsequently begin shooting those who reveal their shortcomings.


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