The US Air Force will need to replicate funding levels not seen since President Ronald Reagan's military spending build-up in the early 1980s in order to make its next-generation air dominance (NGAD) concept a reality, the head of Air Combat Command says this week.

The service has a solid grasp of what it would take to guarantee control of the air after finishing its 2030 air superiority study last spring, which assessed its limitations against future airpower threats. What the USAF is still struggling with is where to find the dollars to fund its next ambitious acquisition programme.

“I don’t see a shortcut to doing it,” Gen Mike Holmes says. “Whatever path you choose, to go after maintaining that air superiority option, it’s going to cost about the same as it did 30 years ago.”

While the superiority study proposed a family of systems rather than one central fighter like the Lockheed Martin F-35, the core of the NGAD concept appears to rely on a penetrating counterair platform.

The study’s author, Brig Gen Alexus Grynkewich, has been careful to stay away from an “F” designation for PCA, instead emphasizing a capacity for range, persistence and lethality that will vary from contemporary fighters designed for 20th-century warfare tactics.

“We believe you have to go fight the enemy in their airspace if you want to make air superiority work,” Holmes says. “Certainly we think we’re going to pursue counterair, we’re going to pursue suppression and destruction of enemy air defenses, we’re going to have to pursue an electronic warfare component of that.”

The USAF must also figure out how to afford all those capabilities while the service ramps up ongoing F-35 production, he adds.