Will Roper's Digital Century Series save the US Air Force's NGAD program?

With the concept of the Digital Century Series, Doctor Will Roper attempted to profoundly disrupt the paradigms governing major American military aeronautical programs, while leading US Air Force acquisitions, 2018 to 2021.

According to this specialist in technological innovation, the acquisition of more specialized combat aircraft, shorter lifespan, and in smaller series, should make it possible to reduce the costs and times of development, acquisition and implementation of US Air Force aircraft, unlike what is practiced today around, for example, the F- program. 35.

After the election of Joe Biden, and the appointment of Franck Kendall as Secretary of the Air Force, Dr. Roper's original and innovative positions were swept aside, returning to a much more traditional concept. major programs.

Today, while the US Air Force has seen the costs and deadlines of almost all of its major programs grow beyond its budget, the very financing of the NGAD program is threatened. It is in this context that voices are being raised to turn, once again, towards innovative industrial and budgetary approaches, including by advocating, if necessary, Will Roper's Digital Century Series.

The US Air Force in a budget impasse as the costs of all its major programs increase

The fact is, the statements of the Chief of Staff of the US Air Force, General Allvin, and the words of Franck Kendall last week had the effect of a bomb in the American defense universe .

Frank Kendall US Air Force
Frank Kendall, in 2014, when he was Undersecretary for Acquisition of the US Air Force

Indeed, according to the two military and political leaders of the first air force on the planet, painful arbitrations will certainly be necessary, in the months to come, to balance budgetary expenditures concerning USAF programs.

The reason for this is the increase in the costs of several critical programs, such as the B-21 Raider strategic bomber, whose unit price now exceeds $700 million, i.e. the price of a frigate, or that of the Sentinel program, the new ballistic missiles. American intercontinental ICBMs, which saw the unit price jump by almost 40% in four years.

Added to this are the ever-increasing costs of the F-35 program. Even if the increase in the acquisition price of the device remains measured, the development costs of the changes necessary to bring the device to its first fully operational version, Block IV, as well as the costs of upgrading the devices to This standard, which was to enter service this year, and which will not do so before 2029 (i.e. around 300 fighters for the USAF), significantly strains the investment credits available to the US Air Force.

Once the strategic programs (B-21 and Sentinel), and the current programs (F-35, F-15EX, KC-46A, E-7, etc.) were ruled out, because they were priorities, there remained, to adapt to the constraints budgetary, only two programs in the hands of Kendall and Allvin: the CCA combat drone program, and the NGAD new generation fighter program.

The threat to the NGAD program is becoming clearer

If neither of the two heads of the USAF has affirmed, to date, that the NGAD program would be sacrificed, they have nevertheless indicated that painful trade-offs will have to be made, while specifying that the CCA drone program would be, preserved.

NGAD CCA Loyal Wingmen
the CCA combat drone program seems more attractive than the NGAD program in the eyes of the US AF.

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