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What We Know About the USAF’s Top Secret Next Generation Air Dominance Program

The Next Generation Air Dominance initiative is a major U.S. Air Force effort to create a sixth-generation “family of systems” that will supplant its current fleet of F-22 Raptor aircraft. Though many program specifics are still shrouded in secrecy, it is one of the service branch’s highest priorities.

It is also a notable portion of the Department of the Air Force’s fiscal year 2025 budget request, in which the department asked for $3.4 billion for NGAD, an increase of over $1 billion from the previous year’s request. In total, the USAF intends to allocate $28.5 billion to the program over the next five years, Air and Space Forces Magazine reported.

NGAD is one topic that may be discussed at the Potomac Officers Club’s 2024 Air Force Summit on July 25, where key USAF leaders and industry experts will gather to discuss the service branch’s current objectives. Head over to the 2024 Air Force Summit event page to learn more and register to attend the summit.

The initiative has gone through a dramatic evolution, beginning as a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency study in 2014 and going on to become the Air Superiority 2030 program before transforming into its current characterization. During the Air Force Association’s Warfare Symposium in March 2022, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall listed “defining the NGAD system-of-systems” as one of his seven operational imperatives for USAF modernization.

The service branch began seeking a contractor for NGAD in May 2023, and while the details of the project remain under lock and key, Air Force officials have revealed several tidbits of information.

A USAF spokeswoman said the service branch is “soliciting for an integrated weapon system,” but declined to provide any details.

In a statement, Kendall, a 2024 Wash100 Award winner, said NGAD “will include attributes such as enhanced lethality and the abilities to survive, persist, interoperate, and adapt in the air domain, all within highly-contested operational environments.”

The USAF is also developing a fleet of drone wingmen to partner with manned fighter jets, including the NGAD platform, Defense News reported. Referred to as “collaborative combat aircraft,” or CCAs, these drones will be able to strike enemy targets, carry out surveillance, jam signals and serve as decoys.

CCAs will also help reduce spending on the expensive NGAD program, in which one fighter is estimated to cost up to $300 million, according to Air Force Technology.

For even more insights into current Air Force initiatives, register to attend the 2024 Air Force Summit.

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