U.S. Navy’s F/A-XX in Design Maturation, Competing Companies Announced
SPARKS, Nevada—The U.S. Navy’s secretive next-generation fighter program has completed concept refinement and has moved into a design maturation phase, while the service has officially announced the companies vying for the contracts.
Confirming the long-expected names, the Navy announced Aug. 26 that Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman are in the running for the airframe, while GE Aerospace and Pratt & Whitney are competing for the engine.
The announcement follows the U.S. Air Force’s connection of these companies to its separate Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) platform. In June, Northrop Grumman announced that it was not pursuing the Air Force’s NGAD as a prime contractor.
In a statement to Aerospace DAILY, Tom Jones, president of Northrop’s Aeronautics Systems, says the company is pursuing F/A-XX development work and that the company is “well positioned” to perform on advanced aircraft programs based on its B-21 bomber, work on the F-35, components for the F/A-18 and the Navy’s E-2D Advanced Hawkeye.
“Our focus and investment in digital engineering, advanced manufacturing and legacy in designing and fielding aircraft with advanced mission systems allow us to rapidly design, execute, and sustain current and future systems,” Jones says.
Boeing in a statement pointed to recent investments in the company’s infrastructure such as a series of new advanced production facilities at its St. Louis site for how it is positioning itself for the future fighter programs.
“Boeing fighters are the backbone of today’s carrier air wing, and we’re using what we’ve learned to inform the multibillion-dollar strategic investment we’re making in advanced open mission systems and brand-new, all-digital factories of the future,” says Steve Nordlund, Boeing’s vice president of air dominance. “We are fully committed to helping the U.S. Navy achieve its future vision.”
The potential engine providers are the same for the Air Force’s program—however, the Navy has been more secretive about this development, as well. The Air Force is undertaking a program called Next Generation Adaptive Propulsion for its NGAD.
During a panel discussion Aug. 26 at the Tailhook Symposium here, Cmdr. Mark Cochran—the F/A-XX requirements officer in the Navy’s Air Warfare Division N98—says the Navy is prioritizing operational reach on top of operational capacity for the program. This means a family of systems, coupled with Collaborative Combat Aircraft, to counter advanced threats at long distances.
The F/A-XX needs to use advanced weapons and data links, with planners focusing on what apertures will be on the aircraft for sensing and communications.
In July, the White House connected the F/A-XX program with a special access program in the budget called Link Plumeria. This classified program is the Pentagon’s fourth-largest research and development program, with $11.5 billion for fiscal 2023-27 included in the Defense Department’s recent budget request.