—John A. Tirpak
The Air Force has established a new program executive office, led by a colonel, to transform the Next-Generation Air Dominance program and produce capabilities that replace or complement the F-22 and F-35 in their air superiority role.
The new “Advanced Aircraft” organization launched Oct. 2 at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, in a ceremony overseen by Air Force acquisition chief Will Roper. The new office will pursue what Roper has described as a “Digital Century Series” approach, which emphasizes rapid design, fielding, and replacement of small-batch, advanced aircraft with short life spans.
Roper said the Digital Century Series will use agile software development, digital engineering, and open-system, modular architecture to swiftly design new aircraft and enter production with a significantly lower learning curve. He argues each advanced platform could be fielded in as little as four or five years.
Col. Dale White, previously the program executive officer for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, and special operations forces, will serve as the Advanced Aircraft PEO. White formerly directed development of the classified B-21 bomber that sits under the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office, among other positions in the life cycle management and acquisition communities. The service will pick a new ISR/SOF PEO, according to an Air Force Materiel Command spokesman.
“I am turning to this program and to Dale, in particular, to find a way to bring the best technical expertise that we have to bear, to understand industry’s business case … to see if there’s a way we can continue innovating, doing things smaller, faster, more agile, where you don’t have to necessarily be a company that can build a thousand things to work with us,” Roper said in an Oct. 2 release. “I have the utmost confidence that if there’s a ‘yes’ to be found in this universe, you [White] will find it.”
Roper told Air Force Magazine in September that he planned to “focus a whole team” on NGAD. He envisions short-run projects could pop out up to 100 airplanes, before moving on to a more advanced design.
“It’ll be a special organization with autonomy, similar to Big Safari, with a very different mission, but focused 100 percent on building digital aircraft,” Roper said.
The new office will sit alongside similar portfolio shops within the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center.
“The mission placed before our team today will be tough, but is a must-do to keep this nation on solid footing on a global stage,” White said in the release. “We are no longer assured the superpower prominence we once held, and we are now forced to reach back to our roots and relearn those attributes that made us the nation we are today.”
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