In September, the U.S. Air Force shocked the world when it announced it had secretly designed, built, and tested a new fighter jet—all in the astonishingly short span of just one year. The mysterious aircraft will deliver “survivability, lethality, and persistence.” Here’s how.
The secret new fighter jet—if it’s even a new “fighter” at all—is part of the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program, an Air Force project designed to supplement and eventually replace the F-22 Raptor. The Air Force has identified five major new technologies it believes will be necessary for the program. But what are they?
A new Congressional Research Service (CRS) report on NGAD gives a quick rundown of the program. The secret new fighter jet, which Air Force acquisition Secretary Will Roper officially announced on September 15, is just part of a program that will likely include crewed and uncrewed aircraft, electronic warfare and cyber warfare, new weapons, and other systems. The CRS report points out that many of the goals of NGAD are top-secret:
The Air Force has said that NGAD exists to examine five major technologies that are likely to appear on next generation aircraft, with the goal of enhancements in survivability, lethality, and persistence. It has not specified what four of those technologies are.
Only one of the five major technologies is public: propulsion, or a new or modified engine. So what could the other features be?
The Air Force’s secret new fighter jet must avoid being detected on the modern aerial battlefield. One obvious suggestion is new, next-generation anti-radar stealth. Another possibility is lowering a fighter jet’s infra-red signature.
Many of today’s fighters use a nose- or pod-mounted infrared sensor to detect enemy aircraft. An aircraft warmer than the surrounding air becomes detectable to such an infrared sensor, especially the hot gasses blowing out the rear of the plane. Infrared stealth would be very useful against weapons like the Russian R-73 infrared guided missile.