During his talk at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber conference, US Air Force (USAF) acquisition chief Dr Will Roper said the service had already built, flown and broken records with a prototype of its next fighter jet.
Built under the classified Next Generation Air Dominance, the prototype aircraft utilised a bigger emphasis on digital design to design, assembly, test and fly the aircraft in record time.
Roper said: “NGAD has come so far, that the full-scale flight demonstrator has already flown in the physical world and it’s broken a lot of records in the doing.”
Roper made the revelation during a ‘Matrix-inspired’ keynote where he also spoke of the importance of embracing digital engineering tools to speed up the way the USAF develops and buys equipment.
Roper added: “The more amazing commercial technology becomes, the more amazing our military technology is going to have to be to overcome the advantages that are available to all,”
“The last area that we have to have strategic agility is in being able to computerise or virtualise everything about our development and production, assembly, even sustainment of systems so that we can finally get past the tyranny of the real world and take learning and feedback into the digital one.”
During the conference, the USAF announced a new e-series designation for aircraft, satellites and systems that follow Roper’s described digital engineering focus. This designation includes the Boeing-Saab eT-7A Red Hawk.
Roper said that digital engineering would allow manufacturers to build the first aircraft in a series as though they had already built 100 platforms, a principal that fed into the NGAD prototype.
Roper added: “This is how we provide our forces with the capabilities they’ll need to win on the unpredictable, rapidly evolving innovation battlefield in this century by fundamentally changing how we build and acquire systems and with whom we build them so that no matter what our adversaries do in the future, we will have the agility to overmatch and win.
“Then we will innovate faster, we will adapt quicker and ultimately stay ahead to disrupt and win.”
During his talk, Roper also talked about the importance of cloud computing, and the USAF’s planned Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) that is designed to collect and process data produced by the service’s systems to improve decision making.
Roper said: “The cloud connection is the most important because that’s where the world of data lives–that’s where AI and analytics live,”
“It’s all about making the joint force act as if it’s one system of systems, just like the internet.”
During a recent ABMS trial, the USAF showed a successful test of using a hypervelocity gun to successfully destroy a flying cruise missile target.
Roper added: “Mark September the third, 2020, on your calendar, that might be the watershed moment we’d been waiting for, where you got to see the actual internet, the military’s internet of things come to bear on a problem that could not be solved without machine-to-machine decision-making.”