USAF Will Not Sacrifice F-35 To Buy NGAD, Brown Says

Credit: USAF

The U.S. Air Force will not sacrifice its F-35 buy to pay for Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD), but other fighter programs may take a hit instead, according to the service’s chief of staff.

The service will “take a look at other parts of the fighter force” to help fund NGAD, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. C.Q. Brown told reporters Feb. 25 during a briefing at the Air Force Association’s virtual Air Warfare Symposium. The assessment is part of the Air Force’s tactical fighter aircraft study.

Brown is looking to lower the median age of the Air Force’s fighter force, and the easiest way to do that is by purchasing new aircraft and retiring old jets. The study will also assess what capabilities are needed today and what the service would need in the future.

“I want to have an understanding, which is why the study, to me, is important so [that] we don’t just build something without thinking about the threat, but also thinking about the complete fighter force, not just the F-35,” Brown said.

Brown’s comments come days after he announced that the Air Force is entertaining a clean-sheet design to replace the F-16. He envisions the new aircraft to be the “son of NGAD,” and it would be considered 4.5-generation or fifth-generation “minus.” This is similar to the decision the U.S. Navy made when it opted to pursue the Block III Super Hornet. At the time, former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert called the Block III a 4.5-generation fighter.

The most important characteristic for the F-16 replacement is that it include an open system that allows the Air Force to perform software updates, Brown said.

“Let’s actually take a look if there’s something else out there that we can build, and that’s what we’ve learned with our eSeries approach with the T-7, what we learned with NGAD,” Brown said. 

Lee Hudson

Based in Washington, Lee covers the Pentagon for Aviation Week. Prior to joining Aviation Week in June 2018, Lee was at Inside Defense where she was managing editor for Inside the Navy.