The US Air Force definitively abandons the innovative ideas of Will Roper for its NGAD program

During his 3 years as head of acquisitions for the United States Air Force from February 2018 to January 2021, Doctor Will Roper, then Under Secretary of the Air Force, developed an extremely innovative industrial doctrine and breaking with the American military aeronautical industrial tradition for the past 50 years. According to this, it was economically, technologically and from an operational point of view, largely preferable to develop combat aircraft in reduced series, specialized in certain missions, and equipped witha short lifespan of fifteen years based on new design and modeling technologies, rather than trying to develop omnirole and very scalable devices, intended to remain in service for several decades, this generating additional design and maintenance costs higher than those of specialized devices short-lived. In other words, Will Roper advocated returning to the dynamic that prevailed in this area in the 50s and 60s, to the point of proposing the creation of a “Digital Century Series”, a reference to the Century Series of the 50s.

This dynamic even appealed to the heads of the US Air Force, who made several declarations along these lines, believing, for example, that it would be relevant to develop, within the framework of the Next Generation Air Dominance program, in addition to the successor to the F- 22 Raptors, a 5th generation light single-engine combat aircraft that could effectively replace the F-16 in the inventory of the USAF, even if it means having to reduce the format of the planned F-35 order, while the costs of implementing the aircraft remained well above the planned budgets. With the election of Joe Biden to the White House, Will Roper, who held a civilian post in the Trump administration within the United States Air Force, had to leave his post, while the post of Secretary of the Air Force was allocated to the very conservative (albeit a Democrat) Frank Kendall. The latter, 20 years older than Roper, quickly began to put an end to what he thinks was an industrial heresy, to return to a traditional operation. First, despite the US Air Force General Staff's commitment to an alternative to the F-35A, he announced that the order target remained unchanged, i.e. 1.762 aircraft, expecting that with the increase in the number of devices in service, the costs of implementation will decrease.

One of the first measures announced by F. Kendall after his appointment to the Air Force Secretariat was to confirm the commitment to order 1.762 F-35As for the USAF

In addition, Franck Kendall quickly showed himself hostile to the F-15EX program, the ultimate version of the American Eagle, designed precisely in application of part of Roper's doctrines, and everything leads us to believe that in the years to come, the program will be gradually reduced, both to finance the NGAD and to promote the arrival of the F-35A. Finally, for several months, the new Secretary of the Air Force has been warning that the NGAD program, which is now limited to replacing the F-22 Raptor, will be particularly expensive, each device costing hundreds of millions of dollars. During an intervention on June 24, the Air&space Force Association, the latter definitively turned the page Roper, announcing that the development of the NGAD would take a long time, and would be very complex, while judging that "Bill Roper's ideas were interesting but could not be applied to everything". In other words, the US Air Force is definitely breaking with the innovative and probably life-saving doctrines of Roper, to return to a more traditional approach, the one that worked so well with the F-22 and the F-35.


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