The Air Force Next Generation Air Dominance Program (NGAD) is said to examine five major technologies that are likely to appear on next generation aircraft, with the goal of enhancements in survivability, lethality, and persistence. It has not been said what four of these technologies are, but one is propulsion. Over the past few years, the Air Force has heavily invested in variable cycle engines. It is hypothesized that other forms of technology include new forms of stealth; advanced weapons, including directed energy; and thermal management. It has also been said that NGAD is likely to carry an AI co-pilot. The NGAD program has been kept extremely secret, however, 15 September 2020, Will Roper announced that the Air Force had flown a full-scale flight demonstrator as part of the Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program. This came as a shock to many because the NGAD program was still very young and funding only began two years ago at the time. At AFAs September virtual Air, Space and Cyber conference Roper said that the NGAD program, which is meant to complement or succeed the F-22 and F-35, “has come so far that the full-scale flight demonstrator has already flown in the physical world. It’s broken a lot of records in the doing.” He released no other details about NGAD due to security reasons.
However, the final draft of the fiscal 2021 defense policy bill cuts $70 million from the NGAD program and some are worried NGAD will become an “unintended casualty” of the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill also calls for the Pentagon’s cost-assessment office to review NGAD and the Air Force’s Digital Century Series. Roper argued that the rapid development of NGAD, coupled with extended use of digital engineering, open architecture systems, and agile software development for weapons systems are needed to quickly bring to bear new capabilities needed for a new era. After much skepticism and doubt of the reliability behind NGAD, Roper said, “We’ve got to hope that things get back to normal so we can get back in SCIFs as quickly as we can and just do the best we can at an unclassified level to explain why this technology that revolutionized the automotive industry, why it is revolutionizing military programs and the handful of instances where it has found root.” Many feel that the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the timeline of the NGAD program, but that it will in no way stop production and development.