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The service’s future fighter jet — referred to as either Next Generation Air Dominance or Penetrating Counter Air — raked in one of the largest boosts in the budget, going from $21 million to $295 million as it begins to mature technologies that could filter into the aircraft. The Air Force has not divulged what specific advances in weapons, sensor and mission systems it is currently exploring, but in March the service’s top uniformed acquisition official said that a large boost in funding would be needed to keep the program on pace with expectations defined in its Air Superiority 2030 roadmap.
This PCA fighter would assist the Air Force's new bomber by flying nearby and shooting down any enemy fighters that might threaten the B-21s. The new fighter might also be equipped with standoff missiles to attack enemy ground-based air defenses, freeing up space in B-21s for ordnance to attack primary targets. The concept is similar to the long-ranged P-51D Mustang fighter of World War II, which accompanied B-17 raids over Germany and kept Luftwaffe Messerschmitts fighters at bay.
PCA is envisioned as operational by the 2030s. That's intriguing, because it means there could be four Air Force fighters flying in the mid-2030s: the F-22 Raptor, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the upcoming F-X Sixth Generation Fighter, and the Penetrating Counter-Air.