The Air Force is planning to employ a previously used "vanguard" approach for experimentation and innovation of next-generation air dominance capabilities.
Testifying at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing today, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said, "One of the things that we are going to do is go back to using vanguard programs, where we use the authorities you've given us to prototype, to experiment and to rapidly innovate."
Wilson was responding to a question from Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD), who asked how the Air Force would manage pursuing sixth-generation air dominance capabilities as well as Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider heavy bombers.
"The F-22 is now closing in on 40 years in age. So you're going to have to be looking at that [next-generation] air dominance system," he said. "How do you fit in maintaining and moving forward with the required numbers of B-21s that you're going to need, and still allow for us to maintain the air dominance necessary with that next new platform or system?"
Wilson admitted there are challenges associated with major programs and said the new air dominance capabilities would use a different way of identifying and fielding new technologies.
"I think if you look back there's probably a legitimate criticism of some of our major defense programs where there are multiple miracles required in a program. That's probably not the way to set yourself up for success," she said.
"And so, rather than looking at a particular platform, our next-generation air dominance will identify the technologies that we need to develop and test and then make decisions along the way on how we will deploy those technologies," Wilson added.
In the late 1970s, Air Force Systems Command created "Vanguard" as a technology management approach that both determined the systems, costs, schedules and plans needed for acquisition and coordinated all research and development in the service.