U.S. Air Force Looking at Leasing T-50s

 - March 26, 2020, 1:09 PM
Two KAI T-50As were adapted to serve as demonstrators during the T-X competition, including one with the representative refueling boom receptacle fairing. Despite losing out to the T-7A, the T-50 may yet play an important role in the U.S. Air Force’s preparations to induct the winning design. (Photo: Lockheed Martin)

On March 23 The Korea Herald reported that an official from Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) had confirmed that the manufacturer is in negotiations regarding the sale of four to eight T-50A Golden Eagle advanced trainers to a contractor based in the United States, who in turn would lease them to the Air Force. They would serve as surrogate “T-X” trainers as the service prepares new training programs to welcome into service the Boeing/Saab T-7A Red Hawk that won the T-X competition.

As originally unveiled in January in an online notification on the U.S. Government Services Administration website, the Air Force planned to lease the aircraft from Texas-based Hillwood Aviation, a Perot Group company that is perhaps best known in aviation circles as the operator of Fort Worth Alliance Airport. The lease would last for one day under five years and would entail flying around 3,000 sorties annually.

Known as the RFX requirement, the potential purchase and lease are believed to be at the price-negotiation stage. The requirement was first raised in May 2019, with Mission Support Systems bidding another losing T-X contender, the Leonardo M-346 as the leased aircraft.

With Lockheed Martin as prime contractor, the T-50A was unsuccessful in the T-X competition, but it is close in specification to the winning T-7A and is in production and available now. Moreover, it is equipped with a radar, one of the requirements of RFX. The Air Force is planning a major revamp of its pilot training program, known as Project Reforge. The T-50s would be used to support experiments and trials of the new systems and processes before the first T-7As enter service in 2023, with initial operational capability slated for 2024.

By that time the Air Force hopes to be implementing a more efficient and effective training system in which students may have to move training base only once and would fly the T-7A at the base at which they are intended to fly their first front-line equipment. While the new plan, outlined by Air Combat Command chief General Mike Holmes in early 2019, would see a pilot taking longer to reach basic combat readiness, they would achieve a more experienced and valid readiness in less time.

Update: Media reports on March 26 said that Air Combat Command has dropped its plans to sole-source T-50As through Hillwood Aviation and will now open RFX to competitive bidding.