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The skies are about to get a whole lot more high-tech. The United States Air Force (USAF) is developing the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) fighter jet, a sixth-generation marvel designed to replace the legendary F-22 Raptor in the 2030s.

The NGAD program is ambitious, aiming to deliver a “family of systems” that goes beyond just a single aircraft. This family is expected to include a crewed fighter jet, the centerpiece, alongside unmanned collaborative combat aircraft (loyal wingmen) for manned-unmanned teaming. Imagine a fighter jet with its own robotic backup, enhancing its capabilities tenfold.

At the heart of the NGAD fighter beats a next-generation adaptive propulsion (NGAP) engine. This powerhouse is being developed to not only deliver superior thrust but also generate significant electrical power. Variable-cycle technology is a key feature, allowing the engine to adjust based on flight conditions, maximizing both power and cooling.

Secrecy is paramount with the NGAD program. Specific details about the aircraft’s design and capabilities remain classified. However, it’s expected to be a master of stealth, able to evade enemy detection with advanced low-observable technologies. This, coupled with its anticipated long-range and high-performance missiles, positions the NGAD as a dominant force in air-to-air combat.

Cutting-edge technology comes at a premium. The NGAD fighter is estimated to cost a staggering $300 million per aircraft. The program itself carries a hefty price tag, with projections of $16 billion allocated for research, development, testing, and evaluation over the next five years. This significant investment underscores the USAF’s commitment to maintaining air superiority well into the future.