The US Air Force wants to design the NGAD program as a family of fighter jets

Since the early 70s and the arrival of the first digital systems on board combat aircraft, very few development programs have focused on developing, not a device, but a family of devices linked by the same technological base. , as was the case with the Mirage III family or the F4 Phantom II. At best, some specialized versions were emerging, such as the EA18G Growler derived from the F / A 18 F Super Hornet for electronic warfare, or the F15E Strike Eagle derived from the F15C Eagle for assault. The only family of combat aircraft that has really succeeded in establishing itself over the past 50 years is none other than the Soviet / Russian Flanker's which will see, from the air superiority Su-27, the design of the two-seater Su-30. versatile, the on-board Su-33, the long-range bombardment Su-34, and in its ultimate version, the Su-35s, while at the same time, and on the same basis, China developed the J-11 of superiority, the on-board J15 and the two-seater multi-mission J-16, the latter two having also given rise to electronic warfare versions J15D and J16D.

The limits of current industrial doctrine

Versatility, scalability and mass production had in fact been elevated to the rank of absolute dogma by both manufacturers and the air forces, who saw it as a response to the inexorable increase in acquisition costs and possession of combat aircraft, progressing much faster than the budgets of the air forces supposed to implement them. And in fact, the current generation of combat aircraft, such as the F35, the Rafale or the Typhoon, represent the ultimate culmination of this doctrine, with aircraft capable of carrying out all the missions of the spectrum and of evolving in the time to stay at the top of the technological pyramid of the moment. The US Air Force actively participated in the promotion of this model, first through the F15 and F16, then the F35A, long considered the ultimate fighter by the Pentagon, until the compromises essential to arrive at this difficult equation did not explode in the face of American strategists, and it became obvious that the sustainability of such a model led to such excessive expenditure that they would lead to the atrophy of the air forces themselves. Then director of acquisitions of the US Air Force, Doctor Will Roper demonstrated that the additional costs associated with the versatility and scalability required by this model, as well as the consequences on the American industrial fabric of thelarge-scale production, had become, within the framework of the F35 program, counterproductive and handicapping both for the planning and for the operational activity of the US air force.

Former US Air Force Director of Acquisitions and Development Will Roper was a strong advocate for a new fighter aircraft development doctrine as part of a new "Century Series"

Unfortunately, in the meantime, Lockheed-Martin's program had become so gigantic and polymorphous that it was almost impossible for the US Air Force to redirect its investments towards a more pragmatic approach, and above all better suited to the challenges engendered. by the rise of the Chinese and Russian armed forces. With 250.000 jobs spread over 48 of the 50 American states, the F35 program is, in fact, politically untouchable, and the slightest declaration that could undermine it entails an immediate reaction from many American parliamentarians, but also powerful trade union organizations in the country. To get out of this impasse, the US Air Force seems to be betting on the Next Generation Air Dominance Program, or NGAD, by which it may well achieve its ends despite fierce opposition from the F35 ecosystem.

Transform the NGAD program into a family of devices


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