Northrop Grumman has once again incorporated what seems to be its notional Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) crewed platform concept into its latest advertisements. This follows another ad from 2021 that teased the same design, although that ad didn’t offer a wide-angle view of it.
The main video itself, which is only 15 seconds long, plays on the company’s past ‘hangar’ setting. In it, we see three Northrop Grumman employees discussing women’s contribution to military aviation history at the company’s “Advanced Aeronautics Hangar.” Referencing the all-female crew of Grand Forks Air Force Base – which in 2014 recorded the longest, full-scaled pilotless flight by a military aircraft without aerial refueling (34.3 hours) – the trio goes on to ponder the possible contributions they each could make to aviation history in future at the company.
What we can only assume is a notional NGAD-like crewed tactical jet concept can be seen to the left in the video. Unlike Northrop’s 2021 ad, which shows the nose of what appears to be the same concept in greater detail, the new ad provides a better view of the airframe as a whole. As we stated in our previous piece, the aircraft certainly seems to fit the NGAD bill – being quite large with an assumed premium on range, payload, and low observability (stealth) with no vertical tails. Top-mounted low-observable air intakes can also be seen. The design also features a very long chine line around the airframe as well as a B-2-like ‘beak’ nose and a single pilot cockpit.
Two other videos from the same series give us a partial head-on view that has a strong B-21 Raider vibe and an even wider view at a distance of the design in question.
How accurate the concept seen in the ad is to what Northrop Grumman has come up with in terms of a crewed NGAD platform design is unknown. Although clearly there would be differences due to the sensitivity of such a design, it’s still interesting to see what they are sticking in even as a placeholder. It’s also possible that the concept seen in the videos is loosely based on elements of a real-life NGAD demonstrator that has been flying with the Air Force for several years now. However, we still don’t know who built this experimental demonstrator aircraft. It could belong to Boeing or Lockheed Martin. And just because the demonstrator belonged to any one of these companies does not mean the production version that is now being competed will, as well.
While Northrop’s current workload producing the B-21 Raider next-generation stealth bomber is certainly high, producing the crewed component of NGAD would be a huge win for the company, and it certainly has an advantage with the work it has done on the B-21. That program is also, by most all accounts, relatively on time and budget, which is a stunning achievement. The crewed NGAD aircraft will likely have just as much in common with the next-generation bomber, with many shared technologies, as well as potential efficiencies, carrying directly over. There will also be other big opportunities beyond the crewed component surrounding NGAD as the program spins up, which Northrop would also want to be involved with.
Comprising a so-called ‘family of systems,’ NGAD refers to the multi-faceted U.S. effort to field next-generation tactical air combat capabilities. While procurement of a new crewed jet, currently under development, remains at the core of the NGAD program, it also includes the development and production of potentially thousands of Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCAs), new weapons, sensors, networking and battle management capabilities, lasers, advanced jet engines, and more. What’s more is that NGAD will fit together, at least to a large degree, with the shadowy Long-Range Strike (LRS) family of systems of which the B-21 is the centerpiece.
The Air Force and Navy also have parallel initiatives in developing their own NGAD programs, inclusive of the above components. The Air Force recently indicated it envisions a notional fleet of some 200 NGAD combat jets, which will cost “hundreds of millions” apiece. While the fleet size of similar aircraft for the Navy remains unclear, the service’s proposed budget for the 2024 Fiscal Year saw almost $1.53 billion allotted to supporting the development of a Next-Generation Fighter aircraft, or F/A-XX, under its own NGAD program. This was a major boost indicating just how fast the program is maturing.
With that said, the latest ad certainly contributes to the intrigue surrounding the NGAD program and Northrop Grumman’s possible involvement within it, or at least its ambitions to build the crewed component of it.