Even as the sophisticated 5th generation stealth F-35 fighters continue to roll off assembly lines for the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marines, as well as several allied militaries, the U.S. has already secretly developed and is ready to produce, its next 6th generation jet fighter. And the Air Force has done it in record time.
This announcement is certain to send shock waves across the U.S. defense industry, but also shock America’s adversaries like China and Russia, who simply don’t have the entrepreneurial talent and culture to create these revolutionary manufacturing changes.
And at the new development and production pace, the Air Force is creating, countries like China won’t have time to steal the technology and apply it before the next wave is already out.
Will Roper, the Air Force’s top acquisition official revealed this week to Defense News that “We’ve already built and flown a full-scale flight demonstrator in the real world, and we broke records in doing it,” adding, “We are ready to go and build the next-generation aircraft in a way that has never happened before.”
As Popular Mechanics explains, the “Air Force built the new fighter under its Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program, which aims to build a jet that would supplement, and perhaps even replace, the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor.”
The production of the highly capable F-22s ended after a mere 186 Raptors had been built, and of those, only about 123 are fully combat-capable. The F-35 is not a true replacement for the F-22.
NGAD is the Air Force’s effort for deploying a “family of connected air warfare systems that could include fighters, drones and other networked platforms in space or the cyber realm,” notes Defense News. This is what next-generation air warfare will be all about.
And that next generation appears to be arriving much sooner than anyone anticipated.
Almost all details of the new combat aircraft remain classified, but to Roper, those details are far less important than the cutting-edge technology and manufacturing processes that allowed the service to accomplish what it just did – to build and test a virtual version of its next fighter and then test-flying a full-scale prototype with a full complement of mission systems onboard – in just one year.
In comparison, Popular Mechanics, the X-35 prototype of the F-35 first flew four years after Lockheed Martin signed the contract to build it, and the first actual F-35 fighter, six years after that – for a total ten-year development cycle.
The Air Force has therefore cut the time to produce a highly sophisticated jet fighter by 90%.
According to Defense News, Roper described the new high-tech manufacturing processes used in this amazing feat as the “holy trinity” of digital engineering, agile software development and open architecture.
This “holy trinity” could revolutionize the way the Air Force, and perhaps other services design, build, and procure new weapons systems, allowing the service to rapidly develop and buy aircraft much more frequently.
Strategically, Roper said, this will put China on the defense, having to respond to U.S. technological advances such as hypersonic missiles or drone wingmen as they are quickly incorporated into the fighter’s production.
“This speeds up the pace at which we can do things so that we can be the disruptor instead of the disrupted, but it does so in a way that can’t be undermined by throwing cheap labor at the problem,” Roper added, according to Defense News.
This is how the U.S. defeats China – unleashing America’s entrepreneurs and shaking up the entire “military-industrial complex” in the process.
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