Northrop Grumman Announces New Design for T-X Trainer

 - February 10, 2015, 9:07 AM
Both new and existing aircraft are proposed to replace the U.S. Air Force's T-38 Talon trainer, shown here. (Photo: Northrop Grumman)

Northrop Grumman will propose a clean-sheet design for the U.S. Air Force’s T-X advanced trainer replacement program, departing from its partnership with BAE Systems to offer the latter’s Hawk jet trainer. It is building the “purpose-designed” aircraft with its wholly owned company, Scaled Composites.

The early February revelation by Northrop Grumman adds a third new design to the field of T-X contenders, which includes two existing fighter trainers. Boeing and Saab announced their plan to offer a new aircraft for the requirement in December 2013. Textron AirLand has indicated it will offer a training version of its new Scorpion twin-engine jet built by Textron subsidiary Cessna Aircraft. They join Alenia Aermacchi’s M346 (T-100), proposed with General Dynamics and CAE as partners; and the Lockheed Martin-Korea Aerospace Industries T-50.

The T-X will replace the Air Education and Training Command’s (AETC) Northrop T-38C Talon twin-engine jet trainer, first introduced in 1961 and now averaging 45 years old across the fleet. At the Air Force Association Air & Space Conference in September, Gen. Robin Rand, AETC commander, said a Capabilities Development Document (CDD) for the T-X trainer replacement is under development and would be sent to acquisition officials the Pentagon by early this year. Rand said the CCD would not express any preference for a new or an existing aircraft, seemingly contradicting earlier indications that a non-developmental solution was preferred.

In its Fiscal Year 2016 budget submission, the Air Force outlines plans to spend $1 billion through 2021 for what is expected to be a 350-aircraft and ground training system requirement. The Pentagon has approved proceeding to Milestone B engineering and manufacturing development, according to budget documents.

BAE and Northrop Grumman announced their partnership to offer the Hawk at the Air Force Association conference in September 2011. “The Hawk is a tremendous airplane; however, we decided as a team to offer a new design as the U.S. Air Force continued to mature its requirements,” the company said in a brief statement that offered no details on the new design.

Northrop Grumman said it is discussing with BAE using the latter company’s training system in its new offering. In 2012, BAE named L-3 Link Simulation & Training as its partner to supply the ground-based training system for the Hawk proposal. Northrop Grumman’s statement indicated that L-3 remains responsible for that piece.

Following the publication of this article, BAE provided the following statement:

“BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman are in discussions about using Hawk’s world-class advanced jet training system as a key part of the new aircraft solution which is being designed to meet the U.S. Air Force’s very specific requirements.

Hawk’s proven training system provides lead-in training for 4th and 5th generation combat aircraft pilots. It is used by the UK Royal Air Force to train pilots who now fly the Typhoon and F-35 aircraft and the Royal Australian Air Force for pilots who will go on to fly the F-35. Hawk aircraft are currently being manufactured for the Royal Saudi Air Force, the Royal Omani Air Force, the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy. We recently responded to a request for proposals from India for a further 20 aircraft. We believe that Hawk will be in production for a number of years to come. 

A formal request for proposals for T-X is not expected until 2016 at the earliest. An in-service date for the USAF is expected to be around 2023 onwards.”