AFA NEWS: General Wants 'Manhattan Project'-Like Commitment to Next-Gen Fighter

By Stew Magnuson
Air Force concept art

Air Force illustration

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The leader of the Air Force’s Air Combat Command would like to see more funding and a whole-of-nation approach to developing a sixth-generation jet fighter.

Gen. Mark Kelly said Sept 22 that coming in second to an adversary in developing a follow-on to a fifth-generation fighter such as the F-35 joint strike fighter is a not a good spot to be.

“We do not want to be on the other side of coming in second in air superiority,” he told reporters in a briefing at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber conference.

Adversaries such as Russia and China are presumably working on sixth-gen fighters, as are U.S. allies such as the United Kingdom with its Tempest program, which is being done in partnership with Italy, Sweden and possibly Japan.

The U.S. Air Force is pursuing its secretive Next-Generation Air Dominance program, also known as NGAD, which is said to entail two or more models of aircraft in a family of systems. A year ago, former Air Force official Will Roper said a prototype of an NGAD platform had already flown.

But Kelly said he would like to see development “go faster.”

“I would like to have more of a sense of urgency and a whole-of-nation effort towards it,” he said, something akin to the Manhattan Project that developed the first nuclear weapons during World War II.

He continued with the A-bomb comparison, saying developers in the Manhattan Project knew that coming in second “would be a really bad place to be.”

“We're in the business of putting adversary airplanes in the dirt or scaring them so much so they bury themselves,” he said.

Assuming adversaries will eventually field their own next-gen aircraft, Kelly said he at least wanted a wide margin between the United States coming in first, and them trailing behind.

“Do I think we're going to field it? Yes. Do I think we're going to build it before our adversaries? Yes. Do I know we are going to build it before them? … I would like to sleep comfortably knowing we've got a really good margin,” he said.

When asked if he would like to see more funding, Kelly answered “yes.”

The military is pivoting to great power competition. The resources should follow, he added. “You will only pivot to great power competition as you pivot resources to great power capabilities. This is a great power capability.”

When asked how he would feel if an ally's sixth-generation system, such as the United Kingdom's Tempest, was fielded first, Kelly said that was something he hadn’t thought about much. The Tempest program is aiming to field its first aircraft in the mid-2030s. During a Sept. 21 meeting with reporters at the conference, U.S. Lt. Gen. Duke Richardson, military deputy in the office of the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, declined to say when the service plans to begin fielding NGAD systems, but said the program is "progressing per plan."

“Coming in second to an ally is head and shoulders above coming in second to an adversary," Kelly said. "But I would also say, if you ask [six] people their definition of a sixth-gen, you may get six answers."


Topics: Air Power, Air Force News

Comments (2)

Re: General Wants ‘Manhattan-Project’ Like Commitment to Next-Gen Fighter

It's not just the Sixth-Generation Fighter that the USAF needs to develop...the USAF should also develop a new supercruising stealthy cruise missile besides the Tomahawk and Hypersonic missiles.

Think about strike a distant target, the US DoD often calls upon the slow 550 MPH Tomahawk cruise missile and its 1,500+ mile range. Adversaries can even time when the Tomahawk will hit because it flies at a fixed speed and takes hours to fly its entire range. Hypersonics will be much faster, but Hypersonics are costly and aren't as fast as those of peer nations.

Thus, the US DoD should develop a supercruising Mach 1+ stealthy cruise missile that can strike over 1,500+ miles with a 1,000lb warhead and arrive at the target much faster than a Tomahawk for about the same price. Thus, the USAF won't need to send in 6th Generation Fighters as close if it can strike from further away much faster.

Re: General Wants ‘Manhattan-Project’ Like Commitment to Next-Gen Fighter

A faster, steathier missile MIGHT be a good move... But there is NOTHING that replaces a fighter, with or without a pilot - A cruise missile can hit a single target, an aircraft can hit many AND perform a whole lot of missions a cruise missile never could. With hypersonics, it's not just the speed it gets to its target, it's how difficult it is to engage and destroy it, assuming you have enough time to begin the process of dealing with it.
NGAD needs to be large, with a huge range, and preferably a fair portion of PROVEN tech; not all wizbangs like the F-35, which 2 decades+ into development, is developing a reputation for preferring to land on its belly or splash into the drink over landing safely like a normal aircraft..

Raptor1 at 6:32 PM
Retype the CAPTCHA code from the image
Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Please enter the text displayed in the image.