The US Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program has reportedly achieved its Milestone-B gateway and has progressed into the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase.
United States Secretary of the Air Force, Frank Kendall told the heritage Foundation on 1 June that much of the development risk had been addressed and the technologies developed to the point where the program can progress towards production.
Kendall said NGAD started in 2015 as what was essentially an X-Plane technology development program, which suggests the EMD phase will be the equivalent of a ‘YF’ prototype program that would be full-scale and more closely representative of the final NGAD capability. He said he expects an initial operational capability to be achieved by 2030.
“The clock really didn’t start in 2015; it’s starting roughly now,” he said. “We think we’ll have capability by the end of the decade.”
The USAF may already have a substantial head start on that timetable – in September 2020, the former Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Will Roper told DefenseNews, “We’ve already built and flown a full-scale flight demonstrator in the real world, and we broke records in doing it,” he said. “We are ready to go and build the next-generation aircraft in a way that has never happened before.”
Kendall also confirmed that NGAD will not be a single aircraft, but a “family of systems”, seemingly confirming speculation that it would comprise manned and unmanned elements, as well as enabling airborne, and possibly space-based capabilities.
He told Congress in April that each manned aircraft is likely to cost several hundred million dollars each. The USAF has requested US$1.7bn (A$2.4bn) for NGAD funding in the FY2023 budget, US$133m (A$185m) of which would be for research, development, testing, and evaluation.