The U.S. Air Force is using digital engineering to field advanced systems rapidly and reduce sustainment costs in a variety of programs, including the Boeing [BA] T-7A trainer and the Northrop Grumman [NOC] Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) to replace the Boeing Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile. But the service plans to use an eSeries approach only for programs that require rapid spiral development to keep ahead of threats.

As such, eSeries programs include the Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) fighter, which has been part of the Digital Century Series (DCS) of aircraft formulated under former Air Force acquisition chief Will Roper.

The eSeries “is just an e-program where we up front put it on a replication cadence that’s much shorter than 30 years,” Air Force Lt. Gen Duke Richardson, the military deputy to the Air Force acquisition chief, told the McAleese and Associates’ FY2022 Defense Programs conference on May 13. “We’re not envisioning applying this to everything. We would only apply it when we think technology is turning over faster such that we’re not able to counter the threat. For something like that, we would look at an eSeries approach to make sure we can keep up with the threat.”

Roper said last November that, as the U.S. Air Force briefs Pentagon officials and congressional members on NGAD, the initiative’s classified details may be the special sauce that gives the program traction (Defense Daily, Nov. 24).

NGAD looks as if it will receive a significant funding boost in this year’s fiscal 2022 budget request, as the Air Force prioritizes necking down from seven current fighter types to five over the next decade.

The Air Force looks to reduce sustainment costs by up to 49 percent and modification costs by up to 81 percent in DCS–funding that the service could re-distribute to gain a 39 percent increase in procurement dollars and a 14 percent gain in research and development dollars. The service also looks for DCS to halve the time between major fighter modifications from 11 years to six and to halve the average aircraft age in a 30-year procurement cycle from 16 years to eight.

“When you go to an eSeries program, it changes the game because you’re not going to be flying the asset as long,” Richardson said. “You don’t plan to modify it. The only mods would be safety-driven mods, and O&S [operations and sustainment] is completely different. You’re not doing heavy maintenance. You may never take it to an organic depot for heavy maintenance. You’d still do depot-level repairs on the commodities and the mission systems, but not on the actual system itself.”

The Air Force has estimated that 70 percent of life-cycle costs in traditional aircraft procurement programs have been O&S.

NGAD and DCS are also to allow significant performance improvements.

“We’re increasing the capability of the aircraft,” Richardson said. “It’s not just that we’re getting newer aircraft. We’re getting fresher aircraft that are able to keep up with the threat much better.”