US Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall announced on Wednesday that the sixth-generation jet fighter has entered the development stage.
Speaking during an event at the Heritage Foundation, the secretary revealed that the Air Force has started engineering and manufacturing the state-of-the-art aircraft.
Kendall did not provide additional details because of the classified nature of the program.
However, he disclosed that the next-generation fighter would feature new weapons, sensor systems, and various drones to accompany the aircraft on missions.
“We think we’ll have the capability by the end of the decade,” Kendall said.
The sixth-generation fighter is expected to be the centerpiece of the US Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) systems.
In 2020, the US Air Force announced that it had built a full-scale prototype of the NGAD fighter for testing and evaluation.
Air Force acquisition czar Will Roper said that the NGAD test flights have broken records and that he was “impressed” by the integration of digital technology into the real world.
“What we did was an experimental prototype,” Kendall explained. “We basically had an X plane program which was designed to reduce the risk of some of the key technologies that we would need for a production program.”
Despite the progress on the highly-classified sixth-generation fighter program, the aircraft manufacturer has yet to be revealed.
Aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia stressed that Kendall’s announcement might indicate that the Air Force has settled on a single design by a single contractor.
Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman are all possible contenders for the NGAD fighter program, he said.