Secretary of the US Air Force (USAF) Frank Kendall said in his keynote address at the Air Force Association (AFA) Warfare Symposium on Mar. 7, 2023 that the USAF will field 200 Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) aircraft and notionally 1,000 Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA), and will request funds in the fiscal 2024 budget to develop these new systems.
As reported by Air & Space Forces Magazine, Kendall said that the next generation of air dominance will include both the Next-Generation Air Dominance fighter platform “and the introduction of uncrewed collaborative aircraft to provide affordable mass and dramatically increased cost effectiveness.”
Kendall explained that the “notional” 1,000 CCA figure was derived from “an assumed two CCAs for 200 NGAD platforms, and an additional two for each of 300 F-35s.”
He cautioned that “this isn’t an inventory objective, but a planning assumption to use for analysis of things such as basic organizational structures, training and range requirements, and sustainment concepts.”
Exactly how many NGAD platforms the USAF is planning to buy has been a closely-held secret, and even if it is “notional,” the 200 figure is revealing in that it is greater than the current inventory of F-22 Raptor fighter jets which the NGAD will eventually succeed circa 2030.
As many as five CCAs could collaborate with each crewed fighter and the process of introducing them will be iterative, Kendall previously explained.
CCAs will perform missions in electronic warfare, suppression of enemy air defenses, air and ground protection, and communications.
According to Kendall, affordability for force-building is one of the drivers behind the push for CCAs.
If the USAF only buys F-35s and F-15EXs, then “we have an unaffordable Air Force.” The goal for CCAs will be to cost “some fraction” of the cost of an F-35. “We’re going to design around that,” he said.
However, Kendall also hinted that greater buys of F-35s will be coming in the fiscal 2024 budget request that goes to Congress in the next week or so, saying in his speech that the service “will be acquiring aircraft currently in production at higher rates than previously planned,” though, in general, “our previously-initiated programs are continuing as intended.”
As already reported, a new fighter jet prototype that could become the 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. On Sep. 18 of the same year the US Air Force Material Command (AFMC) revealed the (delta) shape of a new aircraft thought to be that of USAF NGAD in a tweet that celebrated the 73rd birthday of the service.
Roper said that 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.
According to the 2021 USAF biennial report for acquisition (where a concept art of the NGAD was also featured) the new fighter is “Designed to complement the F-35, F-22, joint and partner forces in the Air Superiority role. Next Generation Air Dominance 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 uses a non-traditional acquisition approach to avoid traditional monolithic program schedules and exorbitant life-cycle sustainment costs. This strategy, called the Digital Century Series approach, creates a realistic business case for industry to adopt commercial best practices for key design activities – before a part is even manufactured.”
The report added that “A highly advanced dynamic threat demands a different way of doing business. The Next Generation Air Dominance is a family of capabilities that enable Air Superiority in the most challenging operational environments by enforcing the development pillars of digital engineering, agile software development, and open architectures. By executing shorter technology development cycles, the program matures technology and reduces risk through prototyping and operational experimentation. This delivers enhancements in survivability, lethality and persistence for a highly-contested environment.”
Photo credit: Lockheed Martin and U.S. Air Force
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