General Electric, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman have each been awarded a $975 million contract to execute the prototype phase of the Next Generation Adaptive Propulsion program for the future air dominance platforms.
All the contenders will have been contracted to perform technology maturation and risk reduction activities through design, analysis, rig testing, prototype engine testing, and weapon system integration.
The future air dominance platforms are also called sixth generation fighter jets will include both manned and unmanned platforms and their teaming. The move comes under the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD), a United States Air Force (U.S.A.F.) sixth-generation fighter initiative. NGAD was originally mooted as a joint project between the Air Force and the Navy, and there is still some cooperation between them, but the two services have created separate NGAD offices. Air Force NGAD is budgeted at $9 billion from 2019 to 2025. The FY 2021 budget is $1 billion, with a request of $1.5 billion for FY 2022.
The NGAD initiative aims to develop propulsion, stealth, advanced weapons, digital design (CAD-based engineering), and thermal management of the aircraft signature.NGAD aims to have a fighter aircraft as the centerpiece of the system while having the support of unmanned escort aircraft to carry extra munitions and perform other missions.
The new aircraft being developed is poised to replace the F-22 by 2030 once it is operational in sufficient quantity. It 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. 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.
NGAD is also being designed to have both a long-range variant for the Indo-Pacific and a short-range variant for operations in the European theatre. 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.