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The Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program is the US Air Force’s ambitious plan to develop a sixth-generation fighter jet unlike any other. This “system of systems” aims to maintain American air superiority well into the future.

Understandably, the US may be hesitant to export this cutting-edge technology. Sharing NGAD with other countries, no matter how close, introduces the risk of the technology being compromised or falling into the wrong hands. Even trusted allies could lead to leaks, potentially benefiting adversaries like Russia or China.

While NGAD is still under development, there’s no current indication of planned exports. The program involves both a manned fighter jet and unmanned “loyal wingman” drones, raising a separate question: will either be exported?

The high cost and complexity of sixth-generation fighters limit production numbers. The Air Force’s projected purchase of around 200 NGADs pales in comparison to the 1,763 F-35s or the over 2,000 F-16s previously acquired. Analyst Malcolm Davis of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute highlights the uncertainty surrounding NGAD exports, suggesting it might create opportunities for other nations to fill the export gap.

The F-22 Raptor serves as a prime example of the US restricting fighter jet exports. The US Air Force remains the sole operator, granting unmatched air-to-air combat dominance (though China’s J-20 raises some questions). However, the lack of exports limited orders and inflated production costs, ultimately contributing to the F-22 program’s early cancellation. Notably, China has followed suit by not exporting the J-20.

In contrast, the US’s other fifth-generation fighter, the F-35, is heavily exported. Partnering with other nations during its development and production has made it the most popular and numerous fifth-generation fighter globally. There’s no indication of similar partnerships surrounding the NGAD program.

Several other countries, including the UK and Japan with their joint project, plan to export their future sixth-generation fighters. The sheer complexity of these jets makes solo development a challenge for most nations, except perhaps the US, China, and a select few. Countries like France, UK, and Japan lack the necessary production volume for their own militaries, necessitating collaboration and exports to make these jets financially viable.