Gen. Mark D. Kelly fears that the US won’t have the “courage” to field a new fighter based on NGAD technologies before China, America’s “pacing threat” adversary, starts deploying one.
Gen. Mark D. Kelly, commander of the Air Combat Command (ACC), isn’t confident that F-35 operating costs will be tamed to $25,000 per hour by 2025, which is the service’s goal. According to Air Force Magazine, he’s also worried that China will field advanced fighter technologies like those in the US Air Force’s developmental Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) system before the US does.
“I’m not brimming with confidence” that the $25K by ’25 goal will be met, Kelly said of the F-35. “I haven’t lost confidence,” and that’s why Kelly is about to hit the road to visit operating locations, the depot, and other facilities, to “have conversations” about how the goal can be reached. The idea is not to “talk about how we feel” but get to a “plan of action and milestones” to achieve the $25K target.
“But as I sit here today, I’m not overly confident we’ll get there,” Kelly said.
However, sustainment officials with Lockheed Martin (the company that builds the F-35) believe they can reach the goal under a new Performance-Based Logistics (PBL) proposal, which the USAF is evaluating. An earlier version of the PBL pitch, which company officials had previously said was the only way they’d hit the cost per flying hour target was previously rejected by the F-35 Joint Program Office. The target is expressed in 2012 base-year dollars.
Kelly also fears that the US won’t have the “courage” to field a new fighter based on NGAD technologies before China, America’s “pacing threat” adversary, starts deploying one.
“I for one am confident … that the [NGAD] technology will get fielded,” and that adversaries who come up against it will “suffer a very tough day, and a tough week and a tough war,” he said.
“What I don’t know … is if our nation will have the courage and the focus to field this capability before someone like the Chinese fields it and uses it against us,” he said. There’s a “keen focus” on NGAD technology, and “we just need to make sure we keep our narrative up and articulate the biggest benefit we’ve had as a nation to have leading-edge technology ensuring we have air superiority,” because the nation’s joint military forces “are designed” to operate with control of the air. “It’s less designed to operate it without it,” he added.
As already reported, a new fighter jet prototype that could become the US Air Force (USAF) top combat aircraft has been secretly built and flown by the service, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics Dr. Will Roper revealed on Sep. 15, 2020 during the virtual 2020 Air, Space and Cyber conference.
According to Roper the NGAD features a network of advanced fighter aircraft, sensors and weapons in a growing and unpredictable threat environment, defying the traditional categorization of a single platform.
He said: “NGAD right now is designing, assembling, testing in the digital world, exploring things that would have cost time and money to wait for physical world results. NGAD has come so far that the full-scale flight demonstrator has already flown in the physical world. It’s broken a lot of records in the doing.”
Roper did not provide specifics on the project. He only said that the new aircraft was conceived using digital engineering, which allows the service to bypass the regular manufacturing process for parts and gives developers more flexibility to design and change blueprints. The USAF announced on Sep. 14, 2020 that any weapon made using digital concepts will have an “e-” prefix in an effort to showcase these innovative processes.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force