October 1, 2023

Air Warfare, Naval Warfare, Pentagon

Sixth generationa fighter concept Northrop NGAD (1)

The Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program envisions different types of drones teamed with a sixth-generation fighter. (Northrop Grumman)

WASHINGTON — Northrop Grumman‘s CEO today announced the company is not competing to be the prime contractor on the high-profile US Air Force’s Next-Generation Air Dominance effort, but indicated it remains open to competing on a further-out Navy sixth-generation fighter program.

The announcement upends an expectation that Northrop was one of the main competitors among the aerospace giants for the right to build America’s first sixth-generation fighter. Boeing and Lockheed Martin — the current primes on all US fighter jets — are believed to be competing, though neither have publicly thrown their hat in the ring.

“Before the government officially announced the program and their intent to issue the RFP [request for proposals], we had been quiet. But we have notified the US Air Force that we’re not planning to respond to the NGAD RFP as the prime,” Northrop CEO Kathy Warden said on a quarterly financial call today. “We are responding to other bidders’ request for proposal as the supplier, that’s particularly in our mission system portfolio.”

“And as I noted in my remarks we are remaining disciplined in assessing the right programs to pursue and that’s ones we’re sure we’re well positioned, with mature offerings, and where the business deal reflects an appropriate balance of risk and reward for both the customer and the industrial base. So the no-bid decision on this program doesn’t impacts our path to sales [for Northrop’s aero division]. We have a strong backlog in that sector. And we have other opportunities and military aircraft that we are pursuing.”

On the call, an analyst followed up by asking Warden if the NGAD no-bid included not bidding on the Navy’s F/A-XX effort, a separate acquisition program that seeks a naval-focused sixth-generation jet and is behind the NGAD effort time-wise. In response, Warden notably left that door open.

“Well, I’ll just say that, when I noted we have other opportunities we are pursuing — I won’t disclose at this point exactly what those are until a little more information comes out — other programs that you could assume that if we feel we’re well positioned, and the government is appropriately balancing risk and reward as I said that that would be a program we would pursue,” she said.

There was a belief among Air Force watchers that Northrop may be well positioned for the Air Force’s NGAD fight, given the positive reviews the company has received from service officials on its B-21 bomber effort. However, Warden’s statement clearly leaves the door open to Northrop serving as a second-tier partner on NGAD, which could take a number of forms. For instance, Northrop produces the fuselage of the F-35 currently, and provides systems for a number of other aircraft.

In mid-May, the Air Force announced it would select a contractor for NGAD in 2024. Described as a replacement for the F-22 air-to-air fighter, NGAD will “include attributes such as enhanced lethality and the abilities to survive, persist, interoperate, and adapt in the air domain, all within highly-contested operational environments,” according to a service statement.

Days later, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall stated that only two companies were actively involved in NGAD. However, an Air Force spokesperson stressed at the time that more vendors could join the competition.

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