The NGAD system aims to eventually replace the F-22A Raptor, a fighter jet from the fifth generation. The primary objective of NGAD will be to achieve air superiority over the most sophisticated aircraft used by the enemy. The NGAD system has to work in tandem with other modern air defence systems, such as those found on land and at sea. The United States plans to use its NGAD system against China in the Pacific and Russia in Europe.
When taken in a narrower sense, the term “NGAD” denotes a brand-new category of manned supersonic tactical aircraft. In a more general sense, it represents an entirely new family of air technologies and systems. Several different things will be developed as part of the NGAD programme. These include collaborative combat aircraft (CCA) jet drones, new adaptive cycle jet engines, aerial munitions, electronic warfare capabilities, sensors, command and control systems, and network capabilities.
The least important component of the programme is the platform, which transports the pilot in addition to the weapons and all of the systems.
The phrase “sixth-generation fighter” is only used for marketing purposes and has no technical meaning. There is neither an official meaning nor one generally recognised for the term “sixth generation.” Historically, this classification has only been linked with fighter aircraft. The B-21 Raider, which is Northrop Grumman’s newest strategic bomber, has been dubbed a “plane of the sixth generation” by the company.
Hardware-wise, adaptive cycle engines are considered essential for the “sixth generation aircraft.”
Adaptive cycle engines provide substantial fuel efficiency, thereby extending range significantly. This is an essential component of operations over the vast Pacific Ocean. The increased range provides significant operational benefits.
According to US Air Force (USAF) Secretary Frank Kendall, the NGAD platform is an essential part of the Air Dominance Family of Systems, representing a technological improvement of several generations compared to the F-22 aircraft. NGAD will incorporate greater lethality, survivability, endurance, cooperation, and airspace flexibility to operate effectively in a fiercely contested environment. He said nobody is better at doing this than the USAF, but that edge will be gone if the United States does not move forward as soon as possible.
According to reports in the media in the US, the USAF has tested or is in the process of testing three demonstrators produced by three different businesses. Their names are hardly a mystery: Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman are the companies in question. At the very least, since 2020, demonstrative testing has been ongoing continuously.
The Defence & Aerospace Report shows two companies or teams have reached the competition’s final phase. The coming year will decide who comes out on top.
The entirety of the programme is subject to stringent secrecy requirements. The number of planes that will be purchased is still unknown. Kendall mentioned about 200 aircraft. There have also been discussions on the number 250, which would be the minimum required to fulfil duties during peace and keep a minimal war reserve.
However, Kendall believes that concerns surrounding the number of NGAD aircraft are not nearly as substantial as they might otherwise be. China’s rapidly increasing aviation capabilities are the primary concern for the Secretary.
Kendall asserts that the USAF could not adequately prepare for this development and maintain a sufficient technological advantage. As a result, he is “ready to take chances” regarding the air force’s structure but not the modernisation of the air forces. According to him, the United States Air Force can only afford to deploy systems that “scare China” and persuade China not to use military methods to achieve the goals it has set for itself.
In any case, we expect it to be pricey. The price of a single piloted NGAD aircraft is expected to be many hundreds of millions of dollars. The multirole fighter F-35A, on the other hand, only costs a mere $80 million. Because of this, there will be a lot of competition among the three listed companies.
Like the F-35 programme, where Northrop Grumman produces all central fuselages and AN/APG-81 radars and is developing the more advanced AN/APG-85, multiple companies will produce NGAD and its systems. British BAE Systems also contributes significantly to the production of the F-35. Similarly, corporations will divide the NGAD program’s workload. The USAF seeks to preserve healthy competition and stabilise unsuccessful companies.