NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.–While the U.S. Air Force has budgeted $522 million for Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) in fiscal 2024 and discussed the program in fairly broad terms, the future CCA acquisition strategy and much of the nitty gritty CCA development will be in the dark.

CCA is one of the major thrusts of Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall’s seven operational imperatives. The Air Force plans to spend $5 billion in the future years defense program on CCA, the first increment of which is to provide air-to-air support of the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) manned fighter and the Lockheed Martin

[LMT] F-35.

Of the Air Force’s $522 million fiscal 2024 request for CCA, $392 million is in the service’s $2.3 billion ask for NGAD (Defense Daily, March 14).

“We want to delay the amount of time, the amount of insights that the PRC [People’s Republic of China] can get into our systems as long as possible,” Air Force Gen. Duke Richardson, the head of Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC), told reporters on Sept. 13 at the Air and Space Forces Association’s air, space, and cyber conference. “I should state that the transparency with the Congress is 100 percent. There’s no question about that, and I think over time more is known about these programs, but what we don’t want to do is, even to the level of [identifying] who the vendors are because then they get attacked through cyber means. When you think about it, [AFMC is] trying to protect the vendor base so that you don’t know, even locations where the work’s done sometimes are very sensitive and, in some cases, the dollar amount because that can give you the magnitude of the effort. So, if you start piecing all this information together, you get ideas on where and what we’re doing.”

“We want to delay the release of that as much as possible,” he said. “Otherwise, we lose the edge.”

Richardson declined to comment when asked whether AFMC has seen many cyberattacks on possible CCA vendors. “I’ll just tell you there’s valid reasons [for CCA classification],” he said. “We would love to be able to talk more about these [CCAs].”

CCA development is to require more sensitive compartmented information facilities.

“Almost all the new work coming in is highly classified,” said Lt. Gen. Shaun Morris, the commander of AFMC’s Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. “It [the work] requires secure work spaces. We have a deficiency in secure work spaces.” AFMC is working to build more secure work areas and to ensure “network connectivity between secure work spaces to be able to do the kind of collaboration we need to, not only inside the government, but also with all of our industry partners. That’s not an insignificant IT/network connectivity challenge that we’re working our way through.”

Thomas Lawhead, assistant deputy chief of staff for strategy, integration, and requirements for the Air Force, said this week that the service has “thousands of people working” to integrate platforms and sensors for future conflicts (Defense Daily, Sept. 12).