Military Aviation

Northrop Grumman not competing for USAF NGAD sixth-generation fighter But CCA, US Navy F/A-XX Programs are not ruled out

Northrop Grumman not competing for USAF NGAD

Northrop Grumman announced on Jul. 27, 2023 that won’t compete to be the prime contractor on the high-profile US Air Force’s Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) fighter program, but indicated it remains open to competing on a further-out US Navy sixth-generation fighter program (F/A-XX) the US Air Force’s Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) program.

Northrop Grumman CEO Kathy Warden said on a quarterly financial call yesterday “Before the government officially announced the program and their intent to issue the RFP [request for proposals], we had been quiet. But we have notified the US Air Force that we’re not planning to respond to the NGAD RFP as the prime. We are responding to other bidders’ request for proposal as the supplier, that’s particularly in our mission system portfolio.”

Warden added;

“And as I noted in my remarks, we are remaining disciplined in assessing the right programs to pursue and that’s ones we’re sure we’re well positioned, with mature offerings, and where the business deal reflects an appropriate balance of risk and reward for both the customer and the industrial base. So, the no-bid decision on this program doesn’t impacts our path to sales [for Northrop’s aero division]. We have a strong backlog in that sector. And we have other opportunities and military aircraft that we are pursuing.”

Backing out of the T-X advanced trainer competition

Northrop backed out of the T-X advanced trainer competition in 2017, even after building a flying, full-scale prototype. After reviewing the final RFP, officials said at the time, they did not see the business case for a profitable program.

Northrop Grumman’s NGAD concept.

The company withdrawn from or opted not to pursue other programs, such as the second KC-X tanker competition; a Navy carrier-capable drone; and the Navy’s 1980s-era A-12 competition.

As remarked by Air & Space Forces Magazine, in most of those cases, the winning bidder wound up absorbing huge losses. Boeing, which ultimately won the tanker and trainer contests, has paid dearly for the privilege, losing more than $7 billion on the fixed-price KC-46 tanker program and now taking losses on the fixed-price T-7 Red Hawk Advanced Trainer, as well. The company has said it will be more careful about the risk of underbidding in the future.

The NGAD Platform

As already reported, the Department of the Air Force (DAF) released in May a classified solicitation to industry for an engineering and manufacturing development contract for the NGAD platform with the intent to award a contract in 2024.

The NGAD Platform is a vital element of the Air Dominance family of systems which represents a generational leap in technology over the F-22, which it will replace.

This solicitation release formally began the source selection process providing industry with the requirements the DAF expects for NGAD, as the future replacement of the F-22 Raptor.

The CCA program is not part of this NGAD Platform source selection.

According to Breaking Defense, Boeing and Lockheed Martin — the current primes on all US fighter jets — are believed to be competing on NGAD, though neither have publicly thrown their hat in the ring. But Lockheed officials have talked extensively about what might go into NGAD and its “family of systems,” including uncrewed escort aircraft.

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Northrop Grumman: USAF CCA, US Navy F/A-XX Programs not ruled out

As reported by Air & Space Forces Magazine, asked about the F/A-XX—the Navy’s version of NGAD—Warden said Northrop hasn’t decided if it will bid or not. If there are programs where “we’re well-positioned, and the government is appropriately balancing risk and reward … that would be a program we would pursue,” she said, declining to be more specific “until a little more information comes out.”

The USAF and US Navy are comparing notes on their respective next-generation fighters but will not join them together as with the F-35.

While Warden ruled out bidding on NGAD, she held open the possibility of bidding on the USAF’s CCA program.

“It is a separate solicitation,” she said. “We’re looking at it closely.” The CCA program is expected to yield a modular, uncrewed aircraft to carry sensors, extra munitions, perform electronic warfare, or do other missions in collaboration with crewed fighters and bombers.

Northrop’s portfolio includes combat aircraft like the B-21 bomber; reconnaissance aircraft such as the RQ-4 Global Hawk; electronic warfare systems; radars; sensors and aircraft structures, as well as solid rocket motors and hypersonic engines, among other business lines.

Photo credit: Northrop Grumman

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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