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‘The successor to the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II has already flown and broken a lot of records,’ USAF says

The project, named Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) features a network of advanced fighter aircraft, sensors and weapons in a growing and unpredictable threat environment.

The US Air Force (USAF) has secretly built and flown a new fighter jet prototype that could become the service’s top combat aircraft, Dr. Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, revealed during the virtual 2020 Air, Space and Cyber conference on Sep. 15, 2020.

According to Military.com, the project, named Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD), defies the traditional categorization of a single platform, featuring a network of advanced fighter aircraft, sensors and weapons in a growing and unpredictable threat environment.

“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,” Roper said. “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.”

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He did not provide specifics on the project, except that the new aircraft was conceived using digital engineering, which allows the USAF to bypass the regular manufacturing process for parts and gives developers more flexibility to design and change blueprints. The service 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.

However the new aircraft is presumed to be the USAF’s first “sixth-generation” tactical aircraft after the fifth-gen F-22 and F-35 fighter jets.

As we have already explained, in August James Geurts, the US Navy acquisition chief, revealed that the service has started the development of its own NGAD (previously named F/A-XX).

Actually the US Navy is moving toward the pursuit of a manned fighter aircraft that would include many of the capabilities on the F-35C Lightning II, but with updated technology and expanded range, Bryan Clark, a naval analyst and senior fellow with the Hudson Institute pointed out.

The service wants to develop a whole new aircraft instead of a derivative design of an aircraft already on the production line, for the sixth-generation fighter.

Clark added that, although the service’s objective for fielding the new fighter aircraft had been the 2030s, when the Super Hornets would begin to reach the end of their service lives, the Navy will try to speed up that timeline because the Super Hornets are likely to reach their maximum flight hours sooner than previously anticipated.

A January 2020 report from the Congressional Budget Office estimated the US Navy could spend approximately $67 billion to replace the F/A-18E/F fleet from 2032 to 2050 and $22 billion to replace the Growlers.

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Photo credit: U.S. Air Force and Rodrigo Avella

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