The US Air Force's future NGAD fighter program will be the antithesis of the F35 (2/2)

This article follows on from the article " The US Air Force's future NGAD fighter program will be the antithesis of the F35 (1/2) »Published on May 18, 2021.

During his hearing before the United States Congress on the sidelines of the preparation of the annual defense budget for 2022, the Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, General Brown, presented the future format of American hunting for 2030. This is based on "4 +1 aircraft", namely the F15EX Eagle II, the F16 Viper, the F35A Lighting II and the A10 Thunderbolt 2. The F22, pillar of American air superiority for 15 years, no longer appears. in this list, and is replaced by the first aircraft in the Next Generation Air Dominance, or NGAD, program. Resulting from a real conceptual revolution in the way of designing a combat aircraft, the NGAD program aims to develop and put into service a new aircraft to replace the Raptor deemed unsuitable for the Pacific theater and too complex and expensive to maintain, and this in less than 10 years, but also to develop a second aircraft, 7 to 8 years later, in a dynamic breaking with the doctrines of the single-aircraft program and the absolute and progressive versatility which have shaped all military aeronautical programs Westerners for 50 years.

Beyond these two already very "innovative" aspects for the design and piloting of an aeronautical defense program, 3 other complementary dimensions have been defined in order to allow the US Air Force to have the aircraft it needs. now considers it essential for contain the rise of Chinese power in the Pacific, and neutralize the threat that this power poses to the allies of the United States, in particular Taiwan.

3- Technological bricks and platforms

To design such a major new program within such short deadlines and with such strong budgetary constraints, since most of the funds devoted to the modernization of the tactical fighter fleet are captured by the F35A program, the US Air Force has deeply changed its industrial paradigms. The most important of them is the separation between the development of the technological bricks equipping a device, and the development of the platforms which are equipped with it. The F35 program has indeed shown the limits and the extreme drifts of the joint development of advanced technologies and of a platform to integrate them, this creating significant risks in terms of deadlines, cost control, but above all reliability. . Thus, although more than 600 F35s have already entered service with a dozen air forces around the world, the device has still not reached sufficient operational maturity to be declared fully fit for combat. Worse, the devices delivered are in a degraded version that does not have all the expected capacities, and will have to be updated, with a great deal of millions of $ and a glaring unavailability, in the months and years to come. .

Guam airbase now seen by US strategists as a potential target for Chinese missiles in the event of conflict with Beijing

The US Air Force can no longer afford, today facing China or Russia, to grope technically as in the case of the F35. This is why the NGAD program is based on a very different approach, the platform being developed only on the basis of existing technological bricks and considered reliable. And when new and more advanced technologies become available, a new platform will be designed and optimized to integrate them at best, and at the best price. This approach significantly simplifies the design process, since engineers do not have to anticipate capabilities that may be available in 10 or 20 years, while the technological tempo has increased considerably in recent years with the intensification of Sino-American tensions.

In addition, it limits the complexity of technological integration, especially in the software field, since the number of present and future technological bricks is more limited, and the device more specialized. However, the infobesity of the information system of the F35 is today one of the greatest handicaps of the device, and the attempts to solve a problem very often generate the appearance of new problems, so complex is the system. and disproportionate. It is interesting to note that this strategy aimed at separating the development of technological bricks within demonstrator programs, from the development of combat platforms, was at the heart of a proposal from GIFAS, the association which brings together aeronautical manufacturers. in France, in 2017 on the sidelines of the presidential elections. However, and even if the SCAF program effectively integrates the design of a demonstrator, it remains very inspired by the methods used on the Rafale, Typhoon and F35 programs, and does not conceptually separate the development of on-board technologies from the development of the platform. -unique shape of the other.

4- Agility and Hardiness

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