News that the United States Air Force (USAF) is test flying a Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) fighter has recently surfaced. The NGAD prototype, a 6th– generation fighter, would be a follow-on to Lockheed Martin’s F-22 stealth fighter jet.
“The NGAD has come so far that the full-scale flight demonstrator has already flown in the physical world. It’s broken a lot of records,” Air Force acquisition chief William Roper said during the Air Force Association’s annual Air, Space & Cyber Conference.
“A lot of the mission systems that we require for next-generation air dominance have been flown on test articles. So they are coming along very well, and digital engineering seems to accelerate everything.”
But after delivering the big surprise about the 6th-generation fighter prototype, Roper gave no other details. He would not disclose any information about a timeline for fielding, what technology would be onboard, or which companies are participating.
“All I can say is that the NGAD test flights have been amazing,” he said.
6th-Generation Fighter in Early Stages
Lockheed shares fell 0.3% to close at 392.55 on the stock market today, below a 394.77 buy point, according to Market Smith chart analysis. Boeing stock slipped 1.1%, continuing to hit resistance at its 50-day average.
Lockheed’s secretive Skunk Works research facility has said it’s developing technology for a potentially more autonomous fighter that could carry hypersonic weapons.
When asked in an interview with IBD last year what technologies will be on the sixth-generation fighter, Roper replied, “I can see AI being a big deal, but it’s fragile right now.”
In particular, he would like to see artificial intelligence “understand what its weaknesses are, understand where it might be strong and not strong.”
In an interview with Defense News prior to his presentation Tuesday, Roper said a key takeaway is that the Air Force used digital techniques to develop a virtual version of the fighter before constructing and flying a full-scale prototype. “We’re going after the most complicated systems that have ever been built, and checked all the boxes with this digital technology.”
Meanwhile, the Navy is pursuing a separate 6th-generation fighter program to replace its Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets. Those are in the class of nonstealth, 4th-generation fighters.