With the U.S. Air Force now launching a bid to replace its F-22 fighter, could Boeing be in with a chance to secure a vital defense contract?
We have already seen that Boeing is publicly saying that it does NOT plan to launch a new airliner “in this decade”. The American manufacturer got a lot of criticism as a result, with few doubting that Airbus will dominate the market in the foreseeable future.
But Boeing also has a defense arm – as does Airbus. And analysts believe that Boeing, along with Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, will take part in a new contest to replace USAF’s F-22 fighter jets. Lockheed built a total of 195 of these aircraft – down from original plans to procure as many as 750.
A Classified Solicitation
Officially, the name of the new program is NGAD, which stands for Next Generation Air Dominance. Like the F-22, this will be an air dominance fighter. The next-generation aircraft will still have a pilot, but it will be expected to operate in an environment that includes unmanned drones. Confusingly, the U.S. Navy has a separate NGAD program, to replace its F/A-18 Super Hornets.
The USAF NGAD isn’t entirely new. Studies around the program first became known in 2014. What changed now is that the Air Force has released a solicitation to companies like Lockheed, Boeing, and Northrop, to replace the F-22. The details of this solicitation are classified and could remain so for some time.
However, the Air Force has previously revealed that someone (?) built and flew an NGAD prototype in 2020. We don’t know whether it was Boeing or one of its competitors who built this F-22 replacement. We also don’t know how close this aircraft may be, to the final configuration of the aircraft.
But becoming the winner of this program could have pivotal importance to the participants. In the past few years, Boeing has been bullish about new technologies that could allow aircraft development to progress much faster. However, its T-7 Redhawk trainer has faced several delays. But could Boeing have something bigger in the works, relating to the F-22 replacement?
Boeing, the F-22 Replacement, and… Sales
Boeing was actually a sub-contractor for Lockheed, manufacturing several large parts of the F-22 – including its wing. A few years later, Boeing failed to win the competition which led to the F-35. Its own aircraft then was the X-32. This was before Boeing’s acquisition of (or merger with) McDonnell Douglas. MDD failed in that contest even earlier.
Lockheed has enjoyed much commercial success with the F-16 and F-35 programs, including substantial exports. Boeing’s F/A-18 and F-15 (both previously MDD aircraft) have also had export successes but on a smaller scale.
Even if Boeing gets a contract to make the replacement of the F-22, it likely won’t be a win matching the scale AND sales potential of the F-35. Despite requests from countries like Japan, the United States never exported the F-22 to anyone. But with more countries now developing stealth technology, a ban on exports may not necessarily affect the NGAD replacement.
Boeing’s F/A-18 and F-15 date back several decades. Securing a nice, long-term contract for an F-22 replacement would be a boon for Boeing. Originally, the plan was for the F-22 to replace Boeing’s/MDD’s F-15 – which never happened. Could the next program enjoy better sales? We’ll have to wait and see! USAF’s aim is to award an NGAD contract in 2024.