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Clues Reveal Who's Likely Building the Air Force's Secret New Fighter Jet

Kyle Mizokami
·3 min read

From Popular Mechanics

Lockheed Martin’s Chief Financial Officer has dropped hints that the aerospace giant is working on a new aircraft program—and clues suggest it just might be the Air Force’s secret new fighter jet.

You love badass planes. So do we. Let's nerd out over them together.

Lockheed, the world’s largest defense contractor, reported expenses and revenues that indicate it's working on a mysterious—and big—new company product. According to DefenseOne, Lockheed CFO Ken Possenriede made the comments during a quarterly earnings call with Wall Street analysts. During the call, Possenriede said Lockheed's Skunk Works program saw "strong double-digit growth" and the company "continue(s) to execute on ... recent awards."

“Skunk Works” is the official nickname of the Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Programs. Created by Ben Rich and Clarence “Kelly” Johnson, Skunk Works takes its name from the “Lil’ Abner” comic book and uses the cartoon image of a skunk as its official logo. Skunk Works is revered in aviation circles for having developed some of the most famous aircraft in American history, including the SR-71 Blackbird and U-2 “Dragon Lady” strategic reconnaissance planes, the F-22 and F-35, and the F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighter.

Possenriede also said Lockheed is planning to build a large new building in Palmdale, California to accommodate a classified new project.

The secret new fighter jet—if it's even a new "fighter" at all—is part of the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program, an Air Force project designed to supplement and eventually replace the F-22 Raptor. NGAD is meant to ensure the Air Force's air superiority in future conflicts versus the fighters of potential adversaries, like China and Russia. The new fighter, then, is likely an air-to-air fighter, which means it uses off-the-shelf avionics, engines, and weapons borrowed from other aircraft, such as the F-35 and F/A-18E/F.

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In September, the Air Force surprised the world when it revealed it had designed, built, and flown the new fighter jet in a fraction of the time it usually takes to do such a thing: just one year. Since the shocking announcement, the Air Force has been incredibly tight-lipped about the new fighter, only confirming that it exists, and that it’s flying ... somewhere.

The general consensus is one of the big three aerospace companies—Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman—built the new fighter jet. But the plane is almost certainly a stealthy design, and there’s only one company right now actually building stealth fighters: Lockheed, which fashioned the F-35. These recent comments are supporting evidence that the company is indeed the prime contractor on NGAD.

Possenriede's comments about constructing a building for the new program are interesting, because the NGAD fighter has already flown. If Lockheed is indeed working on a new building expensive enough to mention to Wall Street, that suggests it will be an extended development or even production facility. We'll hopefully know soon.

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