Secretive Jet Fighter Program Reaches Design Phase — Sort Of

AFA NEWS: The Secretive Jet Fighter program is entering the design phase – so to speak

NATIONAL PORT, Maryland — The Air Force’s next-generation covert air dominance program has entered a new phase of development, the service’s top civilian official said Sept. 19.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said the service’s next-generation jet fighter has reached its design stage, but clarified that he meant that “colloquially.”

“We’re working on the actual design of the aircraft…that means we’re in the design and manufacturing development phase,” he told reporters at the Air and Space Force Association’s annual conference in National Harbor, Maryland.

However, it has not yet reached what is known in the acquisition world as “milestone B,” the engineering, manufacturing development, or EMD phase. That requires a professional design review, which has yet to take place, he added.

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The Air Force has described the next generation air dominance program as sixth generation jet fighters and a family of systems supporting loyal wingman concepts in which a manned jet controls unmanned aircraft capable of performing a variety of tasks. Service leaders tapped into it to replace the F-22.

Kendall said the goal is to start production of the new aircraft “by the end of the decade.”

Meanwhile, the Loyal Wingman concept is still an important part of the program’s future, Kendall said.

The Loyal Wingman concept will have four to five robotic jet fighters escorting the manned NGAD or an F-35 into battle, he said.

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“You can think of it as a quarterback or a caller for that formation,” he said.

The robotic wingmen can carry a variety of payloads and perform a variety of tasks, he said.

A wingman could carry just sensors, one could serve as a “bomb truck,” and another could simply be a decoy and draw fire, officials said.

There’s also the idea that they can be expendable, Kendall said. “There is a willingness to put some of these platforms at risk to gain an operational advantage,” he said.

The idea is to create multiple targets that an enemy cannot ignore, he said.

Analysis has shown that the Air Force can reap great operational benefits from the Loyal Wingman concept and that it can also be cost-effective, he said.

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“We have a lot of work to do to develop this new field and a lot of questions about how far we can go,” he added.

He has asked the Air Force Science Advisory Board to examine what tasks the next-generation Air Dominance System can perform in its first iterations, he said.

“I think we can go pretty far,” although there will be limits, Kendall added.

“I am convinced that we should go in this direction. And we will do that,” he said.

Subjects: Air Force News

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