As part of the secretive U.S. Air Force Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program, a new stealth fighter is reportedly being developed and tested that can control a flight of "wingman" drones—called Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA)—that can bedevil enemy air defenses, survey high-risk areas, and deliver weapons.
“Will there be manned platforms in two variants?" pondered Air Force Acquisition Executive Andrew Hunter. "We definitely want to think that through. The first task is to deliver a manned platform. We will evaluate along the way, as there is an incremental approach to the possibility of variants." Air Force Secretary
Frank Kendall has gone on record as stating the manned variant of the emerging sixth-generation Next-Generation Air Dominance family of systems may simultaneously control as many as five drones. That said, precise configurations and details of the NGAD manned and unmanned platforms under a security cloak—or still being evolved for key operational imperatives.
“We need an aircraft that can perform operations in denied airspace and make sure we have the ability to establish freedom of maneuver," said Hunter. "We’ve had successful uncrewed platforms going back decades. It’s challenging to have a platform able to operate in denied air space. We also need that [drone] platform to be affordable, so we can get some mass—not something too expensive that we can’t afford to lose. We are doing design trades. It needs to be able to assist the mission of the NGAD system, and it will involve a weapons-carrying capacity to work with a piloted aircraft.”