Any acceleration of the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program would be on the order of months, not years, a top U.S. Air Force official said on Sept. 20.

“Certainly, we have had people ask the question, ‘Can we accelerate Next Generation Air Dominance?'” Air Force Lt. Gen. Clinton Hinote, the service’s deputy chief of staff for strategy, integration and requirements, said in response to a question at a media roundtable at the Air Force Association (AFA) Air, Space & Cyber conference on Sept. 20.

“Our answer to this point has been we think we’re on about as fast of a path as we can,” he said. “There’s probably some margin here and there where we can take advantage. So it’s possible we could push it forward in the months range, but we’re not talking about a five years range, an acceleration we have that could get us to that level.”

House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) recently suggested that an acceleration of NGAD, swarms of small drones, and Boeing [BA] F-15EXs could help replace the Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-35, if the latter does not see significant sustainment cost reductions (Defense Daily, Sept. 1).

NGAD is to rely on digital engineering to iron out design kinks before the fielding of operational platforms.

“I am a convert on the idea of digital design,” Hinote said on Sept. 20. “I entered that a little skeptical, and I have been to the places, and I’ve seen the designs. I’ve seen what it is that is the outcome of the designs, and digital design is for real.”

While the Air Force fiscal 2022 budget requests $1.5 billion for that service’s NGAD program–a $623 million increase from the fiscal 2021 funded amount, the Navy, for the second consecutive year, said that its NGAD program was classified and did not release a dollar amount. In fiscal 2020, the Navy budgeted $20.7 million for NGAD and, in that year, projected spending nearly $256 million on it in fiscal 2022.

As the Air Force looks to neck down its seven fighter types to “four plus one”- the F-35, the F-15EX, the A-10, a possible F-16 replacement, and NGAD–the service has said it wants the stealthy NGAD to be a “family of systems” with longer range, more weapons, and possibly multi-role.

Air Force Chief of Staff Charles Q. Brown told the House Armed Services Committee in June that “ideally, I’d like to have it [NGAD] be multi-role, but the primary aspect for NGAD is air superiority.” (Defense Daily, June 17).

“With air superiority, it’s increased weapons load, increased range–particularly when you look at operating in the Indo-Pacific,” Brown said. “For the future, what I look at for all of our fighters is to have multi-role capability to be able to go from a high-end conflict all the way down to homeland defense, but NGAD is really focused more so on a hotly contested environment to have the weapons load–both air-to-air, primarily, but some air-to-ground capability to ensure it can survive, but also provide options for our air component commanders and the joint force.”

The Air Force wants to equip its F-35As with Tech Refresh-3 and Block 4 upgrades to counter China.

At AFA’s virtual Air, Space and Cyber Conference last September, former Air Force acquisition chief Will Roper said that the full scale NGAD flight demonstrator “has already flown…and it’s broken a lot of records in the doing.” (Defense Daily, Sept. 15, 2020).