Boeing’s future fighter variant
The US Air Force is working with several aircraft manufacturers to implement the Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) project. As it became known, the project has already been brought to the construction and flight tests of a full-size model. At the same time, the main success of the program is not the conducted flights, but the development of new technologies.
A regular annual conference of the US Air Force Association was held, dedicated to the prospects for the development of this type of troops, incl. new projects. Will Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Procurement, Technology and Logistics, spoke with other speakers at the event. His report was devoted to new technologies and the promising NGAD program.
The main news: according to the program, the first prototype of a promising aircraft was developed and built, intended for preliminary flight tests and development of basic technologies. Moreover, this product has already made its first flight. Also, tests and fine-tuning of various onboard equipment for a full-fledged aircraft are now being carried out.
The NGAD program remains classified, which is why the assistant minister did not provide any additional information. The participants in the development of the flight model were not named, and the cost of the project and the date of the start of tests were also unknown. U. Roper did not begin to say when the program would come to an end and did not name the timing of deliveries of serial fighters to the troops.
But the current stage of work is indicated. The program is at the decision-making stage. Now the Air Force must choose the most successful of the proposed projects and ensure its further development. It is also required to determine the required number of aircraft and financial capabilities. New NGAD purchases will not start until FY2022 at the earliest. – the budget for the next financial year no longer provides for such spending.
It is noteworthy that the construction and flight of the prototype NGAD were not the main topic of the report by W. Roper. He paid more attention to new approaches to aircraft design that increase the efficiency of well-mastered digital design technologies. Such methods are said to have been proven to be effective.
Just a year ago, the BBC studied the proposals of the program participants, after which the projects were developed. Were prepared digital aircraft models that have passed “virtual tests”. Based on their results, the projects were finalized, and then a prototype was built and flew around. The development of the latest generation aircraft took significantly longer.
Boeing T-7 trainer aircraft
W. Roper notes that new approaches have already been used in the development of the Boeing T-7 Red Hawk trainer. It was created using the optimal combination of digital design tools, flexible programming approaches and an open system architecture. The new NGAD program shows that such methods can be used not only in simple projects, but also in the development of complex aviation systems.
Technology and industry
The assistant minister believes that the emergence of new design technologies can affect not only the process of developing technology. It is quite possible that the situation in the aviation industry will change. Thus, new organizations with high potential may appear in the industry.
Now the main orders for the construction of aircraft for the Air Force are distributed among several large companies capable of solving complex problems in the development of modern technology. At the same time, the process of design, testing, fine-tuning and commissioning takes almost decades, and also requires large financial expenditures.
New design technologies are expected to simplify development, and this may interest new market entrants. Organizations that previously did not consider themselves capable of working in this area may take part in future programs of the Air Force. Accordingly, there will be competition with all its advantages.
The maximum use of modern technologies will simplify the competitive development of projects. The Air Force will be able to extend the parallel development process without the need to build real equipment, reducing financial and technical risks. More advanced projects that do not need a long search for shortcomings will approach the testing stage.
Digital “hundredth series”
When used correctly, the new techniques will shorten the time it takes to build aircraft. W. Roper points out that this can be used for more effective modernization of the Air Force. The current views of the command provide for a long process of development and production of equipment for many years for the subsequent 30-year operation.
Currently, US Air Force specialists are studying the concept of the Digital Century Series. Its name refers to the “hundredth series” fighters of the fifties and indicates the possibility of quickly creating several advanced models. Calculations show that new approaches can achieve some savings or get other benefits for the same money.
F-35A. Possibly the last US fighter to be developed by the “old” method
After 15-17 years of service, an accelerated increase in operating costs of the aircraft begins, due to the acceleration of moral and physical obsolescence. Analysts have found that a fighter designed using NGAD or T-7 methods can also serve for the required 30 years, but there is an alternative. The development and putting into service of new machines every 8-10 years with a reduction in service life to 15-16 years will allow for the same costs to get wider opportunities.
Implementing the DCS idea, combined with new development methods, will not result in a significant drop in design, manufacturing and operating costs, but will provide other benefits. It will be possible to quickly update and modernize the Air Force fleet, taking into account changing requirements. In addition, new companies will have to be involved in the work, which will change the current situation in the industry and reduce the risks of monopolization. Finally, it will be possible to get rid of the typical problems of maintaining the readiness of obsolete technology.
After the first tests
The NGAD program has been in development for several years, but its main details remain unknown. Recently it was reported about the development and the first flight of a prototype technology demonstrator. It is noteworthy that he demonstrates not only the technology of building and equipping aircraft, but also a new approach to the development of technology.
As stated, the use of modern design systems and new approaches has significantly accelerated the implementation of the main stages. This means that a full-fledged prototype with a full set of equipment may appear in the coming years. The further prospects of the project have not yet been determined, but there are already reasons for optimism.
If all the current proposals are implemented, and the projects are completed with the desired results, then the US Air Force can count on a cheaper and faster upgrade of its materiel with understandable results in the context of combat effectiveness. In a different development of events, with the rejection of certain today’s ideas, combat aviation will be able to get new fighters, but their technical and operational features remain in question.
There are several key technical and organizational issues to be addressed by the Air Force, and industry must complete the current and future phases of the program. What this will lead to, what the results of the NGAD program will be and how they will affect the development of the air force, hardly even the Pentagon knows.