US Begins NGAD Testing; F-22 Raptor CTF Transformed Into Air Dominance CTF For 6th-Gen Program Testing

The US Air Force (USAF) has 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.

On June 30, in a press release, the service announced that the Edwards Air Force Base had formed the Air Dominance Combined Test Force to conduct testing for the NGAD program. 

The service said that Air Dominance CTF would continue to test enhancements for the F-22 to maintain lethality against immediate threats. 

Additionally, the ADCTF will be crucial in planning and executing integrated flight test campaigns for the Next Generation Air Dominance Family of Systems. 

This dual focus ensures the continued effectiveness of the F-22 while advancing the development and testing of the NGAD technologies and systems.

An earlier rendering of a sixth-generation combat jet, seen firing a directed-energy weapon.&nbsp;<em>Northrop Grumman</em><br>
An earlier rendering of a sixth-generation combat jet, seen firing a directed-energy weapon. Northrop Grumman

In a statement, Lt. Col. Michael Coleman, command of the 411th Flight Test Squadron, said that creating the Air Dominance Combined Test Force signifies a shift towards greater integration and increased combat effectiveness while shaping the future of air warfare.

Rather than fighting as separate platforms, the focus is on leveraging a system of systems approach throughout the entire kill chain. 

Coleman explained that the CTF would play a vital role in fielding a range of advanced platforms and systems through NGAD, enabling the Air Force to establish air superiority even in highly contested environments.

The USAF highlighted that the mission would harness Edwards Air Force Base’s established expertise in utilizing shared resources across the test enterprise to ensure safe and cutting-edge capability for the warfighter.  

“In April, we celebrated 70 years of having zero combat loses due to an aerial attack,” Coleman said. “This CTF is laser-focused on ensuring that legacy continues.”  

Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) Program

The service mentioned that the Air Dominance CTF brings together representatives from Developmental Test (DT), Operational Test (OT), program offices, and support contractors. 

This collaborative effort allows the ADCTF to conduct comprehensive testing of systems, assessing both contracted design specifications and real-world operational environments. 

By merging these two testing domains, the ADCTF aims to ensure that capability development is aligned with the warfighter’s needs. This approach will directly enable the timely delivery of advanced capabilities that are relevant and effective in dynamic operational scenarios.

The establishment of the Air Dominance Combined Test Force reflects the US Air Force’s proactive response to address the evolving threats, particularly in light of the rapid military modernization efforts by near-peer rivals like China. 

The EurAsian Times has also recently reported that the Chinese aerospace industry could have achieved notable advancements with the successful maiden flight of the J-20 stealth aircraft equipped with domestically developed WS-15 engines.

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

To deter and address contemporary threats, the service considers the crewed fighter component and highly autonomous advanced drones of the NGAD program as the fundamental pillars of its future force structure.

During his keynote address at the Air Force Association (AFA) Warfare Symposium on March 7, 2023, Secretary of the US Air Force Frank Kendall made a statement that showcased the USAF’s commitment to the Next Generation Air Dominance program. 

Secretary Kendall announced the USAF’s plan to deploy 200 NGAD aircraft and approximately 1,000 Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) in principle. 

Furthermore, he mentioned that the USAF will seek funding in the fiscal 2024 budget to facilitate the development of these advanced systems.

Kendall explained that the “notional” 1,000 CCA figure is based on an assumption of two CCAs for each of the 200 NGAD platforms and an additional two for every 300 F-35s.

The specific number of NGAD platforms the US Air Force intends to procure has been kept confidential. However, the disclosure of the “notional” figure of 200 NGAD platforms is noteworthy as it surpasses the current inventory of F-22 Raptor fighter jets, which the NGAD program is set to replace around 2030.

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. 

Moreover, 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 selection process is expected to conclude next year. 

This selection process is seen as a winner-takes-all competition, indicating that the chosen contractor will likely secure the contract to develop and deliver the NGAD sixth-generation fighter. The decision carries significant implications for the future capabilities and technological advancements of the US Air Force.