The Department of the Air Force has officially initiated the call for bids for its clandestine Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) fighter jet project, per a service press statement. The aim is to finalize a contract for the aircraft by next year. The press statement elaborates that the department has discreetly issued an invitation to the industry for a Development and Manufacturing Engineering contract related to the NGAD platform, with a view to closing an agreement by 2024. The release of this request marks the beginning of the vendor selection process, outlining the specifications that the Air Force anticipates for the upcoming selection.
The NGAD platform is considered a critical component of the future success of the U.S. Military. This brings a significant technological advancement over the F-22, which is intended to take the place of the late 20th-century fighter. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall underlines the platform’s attributes such as heightened lethality, survivability, adaptability, interoperability, and persistence in highly contested air spaces. Kendall went on to state that the Air Force excels in these fields, but failing to progress now could mean losing this advantage.
The statement also highlights that the NGAD program will employ “open architecture standards,” facilitating competition among contractors to sustain the aircraft throughout its lifecycle, thereby reducing maintenance costs. It remains uncertain which companies will bid for the contract, though defense industry titans like Lockheed Martin, and Boeing are expected to participate. The Air Force is asking for a considerable budget allocation for the NGAD’s research and development initiatives over the upcoming five years. An initial purchase of 200 units is planned, although the exact cost per unit is yet to be determined. Secretary Kendall suggests a significant price tag, potentially in the hundreds of millions per aircraft, far exceeding the cost of the F-35.
Various reports suggest that the Air Force will modify its procurement process for the NGAD platform to avoid the pitfalls of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, referred to as “malpractice” by Kendall. The Department of the Air Force has officially initiated the vendor selection process for the NGAD platform, which is intended to form part of a family of systems. Defense News has reported that the Air Force aims to circumvent the problems that affected previous programs like the F-35.
Kendall assured reporters at a Defense Writers Group-hosted roundtable that this includes obtaining all necessary sustainment data from the NGAD’s developing contractor. Lockheed Martin and Boeing are currently the only US companies manufacturing fighter jets. Furthermore, Kendall emphasized that the NGAD program would avoid the serious mistake made in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program in letting the contractor hold the technical data rights. This issue has provided Lockheed Martin with substantial control over the F-35 program’s sustainment costs, a situation Kendall vows not to repeat with the NGAD project.