U.S. Air Force Advances T-X Program

 - November 5, 2014, 9:24 AM
Contenders for the T-X requirement include the T-100, a rebranded Alenia Aermacchi M346 that the Italian company is offering with partners General Dyanmics and CAE. (Photo: Chris Pocock)

A Capabilities Development Document (CDD) for the proposed T-X jet trainer is nearly complete and will be sent to U.S. Air Force acquisition officials in the Pentagon by the end of January, according to Gen. Robin Rand, commander of Air Education and Training Command (AETC). At least five competing proposals may be offered for the 350-aircraft T-38 replacement. Earlier this year, suggestions that the program might be deferred were proved wrong when the Air Force published the FY2015 budget request, which previewed expenditure of $503 million on the T-X over the next five years.

At the recent AFA Convention, Rand told media that the CDD will not express any preference for an off-the-shelf buy versus a new design. This seemed to contradict earlier suggestions by acquisition chiefs in the Pentagon that a non-development solution would be preferred. Existing candidates include the Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) proposed by maker BAE Systems in partnership with Northrop Grumman and L-3; the M346 (T-100) proposed by maker Alenia Aermacchi in partnership with General Dynamics and CAE; and the T-50 proposed by Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) with development partner Lockheed Martin. New designs include a trainer version of the recently flown Textron Airland Scorpion and a clean-sheet proposal that is expected from Boeing. The latter will have some design input from Saab, but is not based on the two-seat version of the Gripen fighter, according to Boeing officials.

Gen. Rand also said that the CDD will not express a preference for a single-engine aircraft versus a twin. However, some of the above candidates may be disadvantaged (or even eliminated) by three key requirements that the AETC does intend to specify. These are sustained g, instantaneous g and speed, according to Rand. The AETC commander said that discussion is continuing over whether to specify more missions for the T-X, such as aggressor training.

The AETC commander confirmed to AIN that "downloading" of flying training hours from front-line fighters such as the F-22 and the F-35 to the less-expensive-to-operate T-X will be a goal of the project. But the most important question is how much flying training to offload into simulation, Rand added.