Now in development by Boeing and partner Saab for the U.S. Air Force, the T-7A Red Hawk has a bright future in the export market, said Thom Breckenridge, a Boeing Defense, Space, and Security marketing specialist, who foresees a global market for up to 2,600 of the advanced jet trainer. The Asia-Pacific region shows particular promise as a number of countries are either introducing or preparing to introduce fifth-generation fighters. In addition to training, the aircraft has the potential to be employed for other tasks, such as air-to-air adversary training and light attack.
Breckenridge noted that the T-7A is a “perfect complement” to new-generation fighters, including the Lockheed Martin F-35 that has been bought by Australia, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore. Boeing and Saab are sharing the global marketing effort.
The aircraft has a 10- by 19-inch reconfigurable wide-area display, the ability to train in inflight refueling techniques, and an embedded system that allows weapons and sensor training to be undertaken virtually while inflight. The live insertion of threats and air combat opponents enhances the training potential of the type. The aircraft has an open architecture design that permits export customers to tailor the system to meet their own requirements, and both aircraft and ground-based training systems can be updated in one software push.
Boeing and Saab have started building, respectively, the forward and aft fuselage sections of the initial production aircraft. Saab began building seven sub-assemblies at its Linköping factory on January 10 this year for shipment to Boeing in St. Louis for final assembly. Subsequent aft fuselages will be built in Saab’s new factory in West Lafayette, Indiana.
Boeing remains coy about when it will fly the first production aircraft, but is due to deliver the first to the U.S. Air Force in 2023, with initial operational capability slated for the following year. Full capability is scheduled for 2034. The stated requirement is for 351 aircraft, accompanied by extensive ground-based training aids partly produced in-house by Boeing but also involving other, undisclosed partners. The Air Force is looking at acquiring 46 simulators.
The company does not expect the first production aircraft to differ significantly from the two demonstrator aircraft built for the T-X competition, which have now completed around 30 percent of the phase 1 developmental testing. The pair has performed over 150 flights, including some days when five sorties were flown in a single day.
For the U.S. Air Force order, Boeing and Saab are planning to hit an annual production rate of 48 aircraft, but Breckenridge noted that there was additional capacity available to meet export demand, and orders could be “taken soon”.