6th-Gen Fighter Program: Northrop Grumman Pulls Out Of NGAD; Boeing, Lockheed To Fight For Big, Fat USAF Contract

Putting all speculation to rest, the US defense giant Northrop Grumman has announced that it is not in the fray for the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program.

The CEO of Northrop Grumman, Kathy Warden, announced on July 27 that the company will not be competing for the prime contract on the high-profile Next-Generation Air Dominance initiative of the US Air Force.

Northrop CEO Kathy Warden said on a quarterly financial call: “Before the government officially announced the program and their intent to issue the RFP [Request For Proposals], we had been quiet. But we have notified the US Air Force that we’re not planning to respond to the NGAD RFP as the prime. We are responding to other bidders’ request for proposal as the supplier, particularly in our mission system portfolio.”

Warden added later in the results conference that the business was “looking closely” at the Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) program of the Air Force, another NGAD component focused on purchasing a fleet of sophisticated but reasonably priced drones with high levels of autonomy.

This might make sense for the contractor since NGAD is widely referred to as a system of systems program that would include developing diverse systems like drones, networking ecosystems, and battle management capabilities, expanding beyond just the crewed sixth-generation combat jet.

According to assertions made by high-ranking US officials, the Air Force is currently preparing to buy 200 NGAD combat jets and at least 1,000 CCAs. These figures are based on a concept of operations that calls for 300 F-35A Joint Strike Fighters in addition to two CCAs being coupled with each NGAD jet.

This means Northop Grumman could still be involved in the NGAD program, even if it has bailed out on the US Air Force (USAF) sixth-generation crewed fighter jet.

An early concept of Boeing F/A-XX for the US Navy. (via Twitter)

There are speculations that the contractor is also currently invested in the F/A-XX, the service’s sixth-generation aircraft program. They were further fueled as Warden specified in her communication that the company was pursuing “other opportunities in military aircraft,” without disclosing what military aircraft it was keenly looking at if not for the most advanced USAF fighter jet.

It has long been predicted that Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman would be at the forefront of the contest for the NGAD program, given their established positions as leading US combat aircraft manufacturers. In the past, all three prominent US defense giants had shown interest in the program.

In late June, based on a podcast episode of the Defense & Aerospace Report, EurAsian Times reported the battle to supply the US Air Force with the sixth-generation Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) crewed fighter has been reduced to two leading contractors.

At the time, it wasn’t clear that Northop Grumman had willingly exited the fray. However, this may not be the first time the leading defense contractor unexpectedly leaves a program.

For instance, despite having spent a lot of time on the earlier Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) project, the business withdrew from the Navy’s Carrier-Based Aerial Refuelling System (CBARS) drone tanker competition.

NGAD Is Here And Moving, Even If Northop Isn’t!

NGAD prototypes have been in the air for quite some time, including one from Northrop Grumman. However, it is still unclear whether all three of the demonstrators described are flying demonstrators, whether they are crewed or not, or if some could be static test airframes.

There are three demonstrators in existence, which led to the initial speculations that the three big shots of defense contractors were competing against each other. Although neither of the two has officially announced it yet, Boeing and Lockheed Martin are believed to be in the running in the contest.

It is not entirely uncommon that two teams are vying for the crewed combat jet component of NGAD. For example, Boeing and Lockheed Martin submitted competing designs for the Joint Strike Fighter program, producing the F-35 stealth fighter.

The US Air Force, however, hasn’t yet provided any information about the prime contractors involved in NGAD or any possible teaming agreements that might be in place to allow several companies to collaborate on their ideas.

Earlier, five firms were awarded contracts for the Next Generation Adaptive Propulsion (NGAP) program. This 10-year effort seeks to develop a prototype engine for a next-generation fighter.

An artist’s conception of an advanced sixth-generation combat jet. Collins Aerospace

The NGAD is proceeding well. Earlier this month, the US Air Force (USAF) officially transformed its F-22 Raptor Combined Test Force (CTF) into the Air Dominance Combined Test Force (ADCTF) and tasked it with conducting flight tests for the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) Family of Systems.

In May, the Department of the Air Force (DAF) issued a classified solicitation to the industry. The purpose of this solicitation was to initiate the process of selecting a contractor for the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) contract of the Next-Generation Air Dominance Platform.

With Northop’s announcement, we know that the competition to supply the US Air Force with the Next Generation Air Dominance sixth-generation crewed fighter has entered a crucial stage, with only two top contractors remaining. The winner is expected to be announced by the service next year.