Saab Goes American To Boost Boeing T-X Contender

 - September 22, 2017, 8:20 AM
At AFA, Boeing displayed this full-scale model of its T-X contender as backdrop to an announcement by Saab that its part of the jet would be built in the U.S. (Photo: Chris Pocock)

With the U.S. Air Force nearing a selection decision for its 350-airplane T-X advanced jet trainer requirement, partners Boeing and Saab used this week’s AFA Air Space and Cyber Conference to boost the American credentials of its contender. Boeing displayed a full-scale model on its stand and a large banner in the foyer that proclaimed “American Jets for American Pilots.” Saab announced that it would invest in a U.S. facility to build its part of the jet.

Saab president and CEO Hakan Buskhe said the Swedish company was mulling three options: build a new manufacturing facility on its own; jointly develop a new facility with a U.S. partner; or acquire an existing facility in the U.S. “The U.S. is a strategic market for Saab, and the company plans for continued growth in the country,” he said. Saab already has seven operations in the U.S., which, according to the company, perform “solutions for radar and sensors, signature management, training and simulation and support services as well as for high-resolution 3D mapping, air traffic management and homeland security."

But neither he nor Leanne Caret, CEO of Boeing Defense, Space and Security, would specify exactly what parts of the jet were Saab’s responsibility to provide. Caret said that the workshare proportions between the partners were competition-sensitive. But she did say that “more than 90 percent” of the aircraft would be made in the U.S.

Caret said that flight-testing of the Boeing/Saab T-X design has been successful. “We have built something better, together, than either of us could have done on its own,” added Buskhe. He said the design would also meet Sweden’s requirement for a new jet trainer. “It’s a great opportunity. It suits the Swedish air force very well,” he contended.

Meanwhile, rival T-X contenders Leonardo-DRS and Lockheed Martin used the AFA event to continue their own marketing campaigns for the foreign-developed T-100 (M346 from Italy) and T-50A (from Korea) respectively. Lockheed Martin brought one of its two T-50A demonstrators to the airshow at nearby Andrews AFB that immediately preceded AFA. Leonardo DRS appointed a new vice-president to lead its bid.

Also at AFA, the commander of Air Education and Training Command Lt. Gen. Darryl Roberson said that the T-X “was needed now.” He said that his command had identified 12 key requirements that the current and ageing fleet of Northrop T-38s could not provide. He confirmed to AIN that the bidders had been invited to suggest the future mix between live flying and synthetic (eg: ground simulator) and virtual (eg: airborne synthetic) training. “So we will decide that mix after we select the contractor,” he added.

Because the fiscal 2017 budget has not been finally approved by the U.S. Congress, doubt has arisen on whether such a substantial new-start program could proceed. But officials said that a winner could be selected on time, even if the signing of a contract had to be delayed.

Top acquisition officer Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch said the Air Force planned to spend $2 billion over the next five years on the T-X in order to achieve an initial operating capability in 2024, although, he added, “we have been asked to accelerate that.”