Is NGAD slipping off the table? Air Force chief declines to confirm plans to build next-gen fighter

Is NGAD slipping off the table? Air Force chief declines to confirm plans to build next-gen fighter

Updated: 3:07 p.m. ET.

A year after inviting bids to design its next-gen fighter jet, the Air Force appears to be having second thoughts.

“Do you think you can still do NGAD”—the planned Next Generation Air Dominance aircraft—“or is that going to have to change into something that turns over every couple of years?” a reporter asked Gen. David Allvin at an Air & Space Forces Association event on Thursday.

The Air Force chief of staff’s reply was far from committal.

“We’re going to have to make those choices, make those decisions, across the landscape. That’s going to probably play out in the next [of] couple years or by this [20]26 POM cycle. So those are things in work,” Allvin said.

The Air Force announced last year that they will pick a builder for NGAD in 2024, with Lockheed Martin and Boeing in the running. Allvin’s comments, made at an Air & Space Forces Association event, signal that the service might be rethinking its plan to build a very expensive and highly sophisticated aircraft now that drones and other new technologies are changing the character of warfare. 

The service is currently building its 2026 budget, which officials have said will be even tighter than 2025—in part because of huge programs like the Sentinel ICBM replacement that are costing far more than initially projected. The 2026 budget will be “very, very thin” across the board, Allvin said. 

The chief of staff said service leaders can’t pursue programs that put all of their “eggs in one basket” because if the threat advances, they won’t be able to pivot. 

Allvin said that’s why the service is putting money towards human-machine teaming and its collaborative combat aircraft, or CCAs: drones that will fly alongside manned fighter jets and perform other missions. These CCAs shouldn’t last for 25 or 30 years, he said, because they need to be inexpensive and agile. 

“‘Built to last’ is a tremendous 20th-century bumper sticker, but the assumption was: whatever you had was relevant as long as it lasted. I’m not sure that’s relevant anymore. So that’s why we aren’t building in a sustainment structure. 10 years after this, I’m hoping the technology will make it so that CCA won’t be as relevant, but it might be adaptable, and that’s what we’re building into modularity and adaptability,” Allvin said. 

The Air Force has announced plans to spend about $28 billion over the next five years to develop the NGAD and CCA programs. While the Air Force tentatively plans to increase spending on its next-gen fighter program, the Navy cut $1 billion in funding in its 2025 budget proposal for its sixth-generation fighter, dubbed F/A-XX, to meet congressionally mandated funding caps. Pentagon officials have said that F/A-XX and NGAD will use different designs, unlike the joint F-35 program. 

Asked whether Allvin meant to say that the Air Force might back off its NGAD plans, Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek said, “The Department of the Air Force is currently building its FY26 Program Objective Memorandum. Like every year, any resulting decisions will be released as part of the FY26 President’s budget early next year.”

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