Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD)
General information
Project forAir superiority fighter
Issued byUnited States Air Force
VariationsNext Generation Adaptive Propulsion (NGAP), F/A-XX program (Navy program)

The Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) is a United States Air Force (USAF) sixth-generation air superiority initiative with a goal of fielding a "family of systems" that is to succeed the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor.[1][2] A crewed fighter aircraft is the centerpiece program of NGAD and has been referred to as the Penetrating Counter-Air (PCA) and is to be supported by uncrewed collaborative combat aircraft (CCA), or loyal wingman platforms, through manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T).[3]

The NGAD originates from DARPA's Air Dominance Initiative study in 2014, and is expected to field the new fighter aircraft in the 2030s. While originally pitched as a joint Air Force-Navy program, the two services eventually established separate offices and programs. Despite sharing the same name, the Air Force's NGAD effort is distinct from the Navy's, which has the F/A-XX as its crewed fighter component and would have a similar fielding timeframe.[4]


The NGAD originated from Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) studies initiated in 2014 to explore concepts for air superiority systems of the 2030s for the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy. DARPA had completed its Air Dominance Initiative study in March 2014 and based on the results, the Department of Defense acquisition chief Frank Kendall launched the Aerospace Innovation Initiative (AII) in 2015 to develop X-plane prototypes to demonstrate technology for future aircraft.[5] In 2016, the USAF followed up the DARPA studies with the Air Superiority 2030 (AS 2030) flight plan, but while the plan stated the need for a family of systems, it was still focused on a specific member of the family called the Penetrating Counter-Air (PCA).[6][7] In 2018, AS 2030 evolved into the NGAD and expanded its focus from a single addition towards a suite of capabilities.[8]

The NGAD program's overarching aim is to develop key technologies that would provide the Air Force with air dominance. These technologies revolve around several areas such as propulsion, stealth, advanced weapons,[9] digital design (CAD-based engineering),[10][11] and thermal management of the aircraft signature.[12] The program changes traditional Air Force acquisition[13] by the separation of design, production, and support functions in the development process with a $9 billion budget through 2025.[12][14] More frequent industry competitions and simulations in the design and manufacturing process are characteristic of the development program.[15]

NGAD is envisioned as a "family of systems", with a fighter aircraft as the centerpiece. It will be supported by a variety of complementing "manned, unmanned, optionally manned, cyber, electronic" systems, which are likely to be uncrewed collaborative combat aircraft to carry extra munitions and perform other missions.[16][4] In particular, NGAD aims to develop a system that addresses the operation needs of the Indo-Pacific theater of operations, where current USAF fighters lack sufficient range and payload. USAF commanders have noted that there may be two variants of NGAD: one with long range and payload for the Indo-Pacific and one more oriented to the relatively short ranges between possible battle areas in Europe.[16] The fighter is expected to leverage adaptive cycle engines being developed under the Adaptive Engine Transition Program (AETP) and Next Generation Adaptive Propulsion (NGAP) program, with flight ready engines expected by 2025.[17]

The crewed fighter component of the NGAD was briefly envisioned to follow the rapid development and procurement cycles of the "Century Series" fighter aircraft of the 1950s and 1960s; dubbed "Digital Century Series" by Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (SAF/AQ) Will Roper, fighter designs would be continually iterated to enable the rapid insertion of new technology and procured in small batches. In September 2020, Roper stated that a full-scale prototype of the NGAD fighter aircraft has been flown.[18] In May 2021, chief of staff of the USAF General Brown stated that the NGAD will start replacing the F-22 once it is operational in sufficient quantity, with the fielding goal in the 2030s.[19] The F-22 has also been used to test NGAD technology and some advances are expected to be applied to the F-22 as well.[20] Due to the complexity and sophistication of modern aircraft design, however, the "Digital Century Series" concept was eventually abandoned in lieu of a more traditional development and procurement approach. In June 2022, the USAF determined that critical technologies were ready to support the program for Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) and the formal solicitation was announced in May 2023, with the goal of source selection in 2024.[21][22][23]

On 27 July 2023, Kathy Warden, CEO and President of Northrop Grumman, confirmed that the company quietly notified the U.S. Air Force that it would not bid as a prime contractor for the program, leaving Boeing and Lockheed Martin as the probable two remaining contenders for the main manned fighter component of the program.[24]


In FY2023 budget request, the Air Force allocated a total of $1.66 billion for the NGAD program. Further financial commitments are projected, with an estimated additional expenditure of $11.7 billion earmarked for the years spanning from FY2024 to FY2027. The cost of each plane was not disclosed by Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall, but is expected to be in the "multiple hundreds of millions."[12]

In 2023, the Air Force's force structure planning projects approximately 200 manned NGAD fighters, although this is a notional figure for rough planning assumptions.[25][26]

SMG Consulting shared an infographic on the program, showing dimensions, cost, and combat radius, based on the Lockheed Martin 6th generation fighter artist impressions.[27][28][29]

See also


  1. ^ "CSAF: F-22 Not in USAF's Long-Term Plan". Air Force Magazine. 12 May 2021. Retrieved 26 May 2021.
  2. ^ Copp, Tara; Weisgerber, Marcus (12 May 2021). "The Air Force Is Planning For a Future Without the F-22". Defense One. Archived from the original on 25 September 2023. Retrieved 26 May 2021.
  3. ^ Department of the Air Force Acquisition Biennial Report 2019 + 2020 (PDF) (Report). U.S. Air Force. 2021. p. 55.
  4. ^ a b Air Force Next-Generation Air Dominance Program: An Introduction (PDF) (Report). Congressional Research Service. 2020. p. 1.
  5. ^ Mehta, Aaron (1 February 2015). "Kendall Unveils 6th Gen Fighter Strategy". Defense News. Archived from the original on 4 January 2024.
  6. ^ Trimble, Steve (21 September 2020). "The Nearly Decade-long Story That Led To NGAD Flight Demonstrator". Aviation Week. Archived from the original on 31 October 2020.
  7. ^ "Introduction to the Air Force's Next Generation Air Dominance Program". U.S. Naval Institute. 6 October 2020. Archived from the original on 9 October 2020.
  8. ^ Albon, Courtney. "Air Force Extends AOA for NGAD, Moves Away from Single Fighter Platform." Inside the Air Force, vol. 29, no. 38, Inside Washington Publishers, 2018, pp. 3–4, JSTOR website Retrieved 10 March 2022.
  9. ^ "Air Force Next Generation Air Dominance Program: An Introduction". U.S. Naval Institute. 5 October 2020. Archived from the original on 9 October 2020.
  10. ^ Hitchens, Theresa (9 July 2021). "Digital Design Revolution Key To All Domain Ops: Air & Space Officials Say". Breaking Defense. Archived from the original on 4 January 2024.
  11. ^ Insinna, Valerie (9 July 2021). "How two F-16s from the US Air Force's 'boneyard' will find a second life as digital models". Breaking Defense. Archived from the original on 11 July 2021.
  12. ^ a b c Gertler, Jeremiah; Hoehn, John R. (23 June 2022). "Air Force Next-Generation Air Dominance Program". Congressional Research Service. Archived from the original on 22 December 2023.
  13. ^ Morgan Dwyer. (8 November 2019). "The Air Force Digital Century Series: Beyond the Buzzwords". Retrieved 10 March 2022.
  14. ^ Harper, Jon (21 September 2021). "Air Force's NGAD Program 'Progressing Per Plan'". National Defense Magazine. Archived from the original on 30 May 2023. Retrieved 10 March 2022.
  15. ^ Mayfield, Mandy (14 July 2020). "Air Force 'Digital Century Series' Acquisition Concept Nearing Milestone". National Defense Magazine. Archived from the original on 31 May 2023. Retrieved 10 March 2022.
  16. ^ a b Tirpak, John A. (16 June 2021). "Brown: NGAD Will be a Multirole Fighter". Air Force Magazine. Archived from the original on 28 September 2023.
  17. ^ Trimble, Steven (31 July 2020). "Budget Shows Flightworthy Sixth-Generation Fighter Engines". Aviation Week. Archived from the original on 16 December 2022.
  18. ^ Insinna, Valerie (15 September 2020). "The US Air Force has built and flown a mysterious full-scale prototype of its future fighter jet". Defense News. Archived from the original on 15 September 2020.
  19. ^ Tirpak, John A. (13 May 2021). "New Force Design: NGAD Needed Soon, F-22 Sunset Begins in 2030". Air Force Magazine. Archived from the original on 26 February 2023.
  20. ^ Rogoway, Tyler (25 April 2022). "F-22 Being Used To Test Next Generation Air Dominance 'Fighter' Tech". The Drive. Archived from the original on 19 November 2023.
  21. ^ Losey, Stephen (1 June 2022). "The Air Force's next-gen fighter has moved into a critical new phase". Defense News. Archived from the original on 6 December 2022.
  22. ^ Tirpak, John A. (24 June 2022). "Kendall Dispenses With Roper's Quick NGAD Rhythm; System is Too Complex". Air Force Magazine. Archived from the original on 28 April 2023.
  23. ^ Marrow, Michael (18 May 2023). "NGAD Deadline: Air Force's next-generation fighter will be selected in 2024". Breaking Defense. Archived from the original on 28 December 2023.
  24. ^ Biesecker, Cal (27 July 2023). "Northrop Grumman Powers On B-21; Won't Bid On NGAD". Defense Daily. Archived from the original on 28 July 2023.
  25. ^ Losey, Stephen (28 April 2022). "Future NGAD fighter jets could cost 'hundreds of millions' apiece". Defense News. Archived from the original on 29 April 2022. Retrieved 12 January 2023.
  26. ^ Tirpak, John A. (7 March 2023). "Kendall Reveals New Details on Air Force Plans: 1,000 CCAs, 200 NGAD Fighters". Air and Space Forces Magazine. Archived from the original on 20 September 2023. Retrieved 7 March 2023.
  27. ^ [1] Next Generation Air Dominance - SMG Consulting
  28. ^ Newdick, Thomas; Rogoway, Tyler (26 October 2022). "New Next Generation Air Dominance 'Fighter' Renderings From Lockheed". The Drive. Archived from the original on 27 April 2023. Retrieved 22 August 2022.
  29. ^ Mehta, Aaron; Marrow, Michael (27 July 2023). "Northrop not competing for NGAD sixth-gen fighter: CEO". Breaking Defense. Archived from the original on 27 July 2023.