America’s Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) Jet may come in two variants; 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, a top Air Force official revealed.
The information was revealed during yesterday’s House Armed Services Committee hearing regarding the Air Force’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget request. Testifying before the committee were Air Force Chief of Staff General Charles Q. Brown Jr. and General Mark D. Kelly, the head of Air Combat Command.
The Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program is the Air Force’s effort for fielding a family of connected air warfare systems that could include fighters, drones and other networked platforms in space or the cyber realm.
The Air Force might consider fielding two distinct variants of the NGAD fighter component: one optimized for long-range/heavy-payload missions of the kind that would likely be required in the Indo-Pacific region, as well as one with shorter range sufficient for the European theater of operations, General Kelly revealed.
Having two variants comes with both pros and cons. Although the European version will smaller and cheaper going by its specifications, it could be quite different from the long-range variant – as seen in the case of the F-35 variants with lesser degree of commonality. It would entail two distinct production versions, with potentially different support infrastructure and a knock-on effect on concepts of deployment and operation.
General Brown told lawmakers that compared to the F-22, the NGAD will have “increased weapons load [and] … increased range.” While the aircraft’s primary role will be air dominance, it will also have the ability to strike ground targets such as air defense systems. The NGAD will have “some air-to-ground capability to ensure, one, that it can survive, but also to provide options for our air component commanders and for the Joint Force,” Brown said.
There has also been much talk in the past about using loyal wingman drones to expand the number of weapons available to the NGAD’s pilot.
The NGAD will have to do better in terms of number of weapons it can carry, than the F-22 it is set replace. Using internal carriage to reduce its radar signature, the F-22 typically carries six AIM-120 AMRAAMs, or two AMRAAMs and two 1,000-pound GBU-32 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM), or two AMRAAMs and eight Small Diameter Bombs (SDB), plus a pair of short-range Sidewinder missiles in its side bays.