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On September 15, 2020, U.S. Air Force acquisition executive Dr. Will Roper announced that the Air Force had flown a full-scale flight demonstrator as part of the Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program.
The announcement came as a surprise to many observers, both as the NGAD program was believed to be an early-phase technology development program unlikely to yield hardware in the near term, and because funding began two years ago, which is unusually fast to design and build a military aircraft. DOD had mentioned an interest in building a new “X-plane” prototype as far back as 2014, but it is not clear whether this led to the NGAD demonstrator.
The U.S. Air Force has secretly designed, built and flown at least one prototype of its enigmatic next-generation fighter jet, the service’s top acquisition official confirmed to Defense News on Sept. 14, 2020
“We’ve already built and flown a full-scale flight demonstrator in the real world, and we broke records in doing it,” Will Roper told Defense News in an exclusive interview ahead of the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference. “We are ready to go and build the next-generation aircraft in a way that has never happened before.”
2020 US Congress Report Air Force Next-Generation Air Dominance Program: An Introduction
NGAD was originally mooted as a joint project between the Air Force and the Navy, and there is still some cooperation between them, but the two services have created separate NGAD offices. Air Force NGAD is budgeted at $9 billion from 2019 to 2025. The FY 2021 budget is $1 billion, with a request of $1.5 billion for FY 2022.
Designed to complement the F-35 and F-22, the NGAD is an advanced aircraft program for development of penetrating counter air platforms with multi-domain situational awareness, agile resilient communications, and an integrated family of capabilities. The program is employing digital engineering too replace once-in-a-generation, mass produced fighters with smaller batches of iteratively-upgraded platforms of multiple types. This approach takes a cue from the digital transformation of the automotive industry, using models to troubleshoot design, assembly, maintenance, and sustainment before physical systems exist.