NGAD: USAF's sixth generation fighter is on schedule, acquisition official says

US Air Force concept art of a sixth generation fighter
US Air Force concept art of a sixth generation fighter

The US Air Force’s programme for a sixth generation fighter jet and related systems, Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD), is progressing according to plan.

This is according to a top acquisition official at the service in September, a year after then-acquisition chief Will Roper announced USAF had flown a full-scale prototype of an NGAD fighter.

“NGAD is not one [of the Air Force’s programs] where I'm able to share a lot of details,” said Duke Richardson, military deputy in the office of the assistant secretary of the Air Force for AT&L, at this year’s Air, Space & Cyber conference.

“I will just tell you that it is progressing per plan. There’s just so much of it that’s not able to be discussed in an open forum.”

The comments came on the same day (22nd September) as the head of USAF’s Air Combat Command called for more funding for the NGAD programme.

“We do not want to be on the other side of coming in second in air superiority,” Mark Kelly explained at the conference. “I would like to have more of a sense of urgency and a whole-of-nation effort towards it,” he said, drawing comparisons to the Manhattan Project that produced the first nuclear bomb in World War II. Kelly explained that the developers in the Manhattan Project knew that coming in second “would be a really bad place to be.”

“We're in the business of putting adversary airplanes in the dirt or scaring them so much so they bury themselves,” he said.

Speaking more on NGAD, the Air Combat Command chief said: “Do I think we're going to field it? Yes. Do I think we're going to build it before our adversaries? Yes. Do I know we are going to build it before them? … I would like to sleep comfortably knowing we've got a really good margin”

Kelly said he would like the development phase to “go faster”, and asked if he would like to see more funding for NGAD, he said yes.

As the conference was going ahead, a stealthy fighter jet-like test shape appeared in an online video, taken at Lockheed Martin’s secretive Helendale radar-cross section (RCS) measurement facility.

The test shape that appeared at Lockheed Martin's Helendale facility. The video still has been flipped for viewing purposes.
The test shape that appeared at Lockheed Martin's Helendale facility. This video still has been flipped for viewing purposes.

Located at the company’s Skunk Works facility at Plant 42 in Palmdale, California, Helendale has played a key role in stealth aircraft development for decades.

The video first appeared on video-sharing platform TikTok before being reported on by news outlets.

The shape resembles an up-side-down stealth aircraft similar to concept art released by defence manufacturers including Lockheed Martin.

Jeff Babione, the head of Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works advanced projects division later declined to comment "in a somewhat cryptic way", according to Joseph Trevithick of The War Zone. Babione declined to comment on the test shape, "without offering any further explanation of what the test shape was," Trevithick said. "This response was somewhat curious, since one would think that if this was something non-sensitive, such as a test shape for calibration purposes, he would be able to simply say so."

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