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Inside Air Force’s Race Toward Next Generation Air Dominance

The U.S. Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance program has been a top priority for the service branch in recent years — NGAD is one of Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall’s famed seven operational imperatives — but the effort has been somewhat shrouded in secrecy.

As the Air Force formally moves forward with its selection process for the design of the sixth-generation platform after a classified solicitation to industry on May 18, the effort is beginning to take shape. 

Curious about NGAD and other high-priority Air Force efforts? Hear Frank Kendall speak in person on July 18 at the Potomac Officers Club’s 2023 Air Force Summit. This annual event gathers the service’s top leaders and decision makers in one can’t-miss event — register here to save your seat.

Here’s what we know about NGAD thus far:

A Collection of Capabilities — Including Drones

Kendall, a 2023 Wash100 Award winner, has said that unlike the Air Force’s previous modernization efforts, NGAD does not hinge on a singular platform, but will instead comprise a collection of different capabilities using a “system-of-systems” approach designed to increase lethality and multiply the force. 

“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,” Kendall explained. “NGAD will include attributes such as enhanced lethality and the ability to survive, persist, interoperate and adapt in the air domain, all within highly contested operational environments.”

Unmanned platforms and drones will be a critical component of this family of systems, Kendall has revealed. The service plans to make an initial purchase of 200 NGAD fighters and 1,000 CCAs, or collaborative combat aircraft. Kendall explained that each fighter will be paired with two autonomous CCAs.

Two Contractors Have Worked on NGAD But Only One Will Win in 2024

Kendall has said that two contractors have been working on the design phase of the NGAD program at theWright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. But ultimately, the service will only select one vendor to win the engineering, manufacturing and development contract.

According to Kendall, the Air Force has “intimate knowledge” of the early-stage efforts being conducted by both vendors. The service reportedly has “direct access into the database that’s being used for the design.”

The Air Force plans to pick a winner for the NGAD contract in 2024.

Learn more about NGAD and other next-generation Air Force programs designed to prepare the nation’s air defenses for the future fight. Join the Potomac Officers Club’s 2023 Annual Air Force Summit on July 18 for a chance to join the conversation. Register here.

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