ACC Commander concerned Air Force won't field NGAD fast enough to beat adversary threats

By Courtney Albon / February 26, 2021 at 5:50 PM

The Air Force general in charge of Air Combat Command said today that while he is confident in the progress the service has made to develop Next-Generation Air Dominance capabilities, he is less sure "the nation will have the courage" to deliver the technology at a faster pace than its adversaries.

"I, for one, am confident that the technology and the test points we have developed . . . that NGAD technology will get fielded and I'm confident that the adversaries on the other end of this technology will suffer a very tough day and tough week and tough war," ACC Commander Mark Kelly told reporters today. "What I don't know -- and we're working with our great partners -- is if our nation will have the courage and the focus to field this capability before someone like the Chinese fields it and uses it against us."

The Air Force in September revealed that it has flown a full-scale demonstrator featuring NGAD technologies but has revealed few details on the program's progress or its acquisition strategy, which was finalized in August. Asked today during a media roundtable at the Air Force Association's virtual Air Warfare Symposium when the service planned to field an aircraft, Kelly declined to comment.

"It's a key focus. It's a key capability," Kelly said. "We just need to make sure we keep our narrative up and articulate the biggest benefit we've had as a nation: to have leading technology, ensuring we have air superiority for the nation."

Lawmakers cut $140 million from the program's fiscal year 2021 budget request, reducing it from $1.04 billion to about $900 million and indicating Congress may not yet be sold on the Air Force's NGAD pitch. The service will likely need to develop greater support from lawmakers to support the program's budget going forward as development activities progress. Beyond its FY-21 request, the service last year projected it will need approximately $7.4 billion across the future years defense program.