The long-awaited T-X contract to provide the U.S. Air Force’s next-generation advanced trainer has been won by Boeing and partner Saab, who offered a clean-sheet design of which two prototypes have been built. Boeing is the nominated prime contractor, with Saab the co-developer and risk-sharing partner.
“Today’s announcement is the culmination of years of unwavering focus by the Boeing and Saab team,” said Leanne Caret, president and CEO, Boeing Defense, Space, & Security. “It is a direct result of our joint investment in developing a system centered on the unique requirements of the U.S. Air Force. We expect T-X to be a franchise program for much of this century.”
The initial contract, worth $813 million, covers EMD (engineering and manufacturing development) and the supply of an initial five aircraft and seven simulators. Ultimately the requirement is for 351 aircraft to replace the aging Northrop T-38C Talon fleet. The award of the contract permits Boeing to begin placing orders with suppliers, including Saab. At least 90 percent of the work will be performed in the United States.
The Boeing/Saab team won the contract in the face of competition from Lockheed Martin, which offered the T-50A design based on the Korean Aerospace Industries T-50 advanced trainer, and the T-100 from Leonardo DRS, an evolution of the M-346 trainer. Previously, Leonardo had teamed with first General Dynamics, and then Raytheon, but then pursued the contract with its own U.S.-based DRS subsidiary. Previously, the Textron Scorpion, Sierra Nevada/Turkish Aerospace Freedom Trainer, and Stavatti Aerospace Javelin had been proposed for the deal. Northrop Grumman initially teamed with BAE Systems to offer an advanced version of the Hawk, then created a clean-sheet design before opting to withdraw from the competition.
First delivery of the T-X is scheduled for 2022, with the program to be completed 10 years later. Despite receiving an avionics upgrade, the T-38C is increasingly becoming obsolete in an era when pilots are training for fifth-generation fighters such as the F-22 and F-35 in an early 1960s aircraft.
For Boeing, the T-X award represents the third—and by far the most important—win in recent weeks, as it was selected to answer the U.S. Navy’s MQ-25 Stingray unmanned tanker requirement and the U.S. Air Force’s UH-1N replacement needs. In addition to the stated requirement by the Air Force, the Boeing/Saab design can expect to win significant export orders on top of those from the United States.