US Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance Fighter Jet Will Be Wildly Expensive

The upcoming sixth-generation air dominance fighter will be a weapon system of unprecedented capabilities - with a price tag to match.
air dominance

The USAF is designing a sixth-generation air dominance fighter with groundbreaking capabilities expected to make its first flight in 2030.

But, other military powers are also developing next-generation fighter aircraft – and even if the USAF seems to be ahead of its counterparts, nothing is certain.

Additionally, its price is already causing controversy. So, what will be the advantages of this new air dominance aircraft compared to fifth-generation aircraft? Does the US have much of an advantage over other military powers?


Sixth-generation fighter jets

Fifth-generation fighters have five widely agreed-upon features: stealth, enhanced maneuverability, the latest avionics systems, multipurpose combat capabilities, and data fusion networking capabilities.

However, a sixth-generation fighter will presumably embrace everything that characterizes a fifth-generation aircraft along with some added features such as the employment of swarm drones, manned and unmanned capability, an advanced AI, and unparalleled air dominance capabilities.

Consequently, the US is testing new technologies under the utmost secrecy to create this air dominance aircraft as soon as possible.


It is anticipated to have a longer range and larger payloads than current fighter jets and the added potential to deliver hypersonic weapons.

The Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program is developing this aircraft. But the NGAD doesn’t disclose too many details while prototypes are under development to prevent leaks and spying.

The most expensive aircraft ever created

The new sixth-generation fighter will outperform the F-35, and it will also surpass it in price as it is expected to be the most expensive aircraft ever designed.


Indeed, it is estimated to cost twice as much as what an F-35 costs today.

In any case, it’s hard to get a clear idea of how much it might cost. Some reports indicate that this air dominance aircraft could cost between $200 to $300 million per unit. For example, the Russian SU-57 is estimated to cost around $40 million.

Other potential sixth-generation fighters

FCAS NGF mock-up at Paris Air Show
FCAS NGF mock-up at Paris Air Show by Tiraden. Licensed under CC by 4.0

There’s not too much information on global sixth-generation fighters as they are still in the design stage, but so far, these are the aircraft that stand out:


Future Combat Air System 

The Future Combat Air System will create the European sixth-generation air dominance aircraft. It will be designed and built by Dassault and Airbus in a joint program involving Germany, France, and Spain.

It will bring a new-generation fighter aircraft that will function as part of the formation of the manned and unmanned team.

Mikoyan PAK DP / MiG-41

Mikoyan Gurevich is planning to create an advanced interceptor with unmanned variants that will be able to fly at extremely high altitudes at Mach 4.


However, Russia is still having many problems producing its fifth-generation aircraft, the Su-57. So, the PAK DP or MiG-41 won’t be available any time soon.


960px Tempest DSEI 2019
BAE Systems Tempest by Swadim. Licensed under CC by 3.0

The Tempest is a next-generation air dominance fighter developed by the UK, Italy, and Sweden.

It will feature expanded stealth technology, optional crew, directed energy weaponry, and hypersonic missiles. Also, the Tempest will employ swarm drones to attack, and it is expected to enter service with the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 2035.


China is secretly building its own sixth-generation aircraft

China is currently developing a new fighter aircraft with sixth-generation technologies such as drones, stealth capability, and AI. The upcoming aircraft is also likely to feature hypersonic weapons and lasers.

In any case, China has just released the fifth-generation J-20. So, it will take them more than a decade to produce a sixth-generation fighter jet.

A sixth-generation aircraft is a game-changer not only for the USAF but for modern warfare

With the emergence and increasing use of digital and innovative technologies, military powers are looking for high-end fighter aircraft capabilities.


And the US is focused on a sixth-generation fighter able to operate over very long distances in the Pacific theater as it could be a deterrent against any Chinese attempt to attack the United States in a potential future war.

Feature image credit: Sixth-generation fighter by