On May 14 the U.S. Navy published a Request for Information (RFI) on the government’s System for Award Management website concerning a new trainer aircraft, following on from a marketing survey conducted in 2018. Known formally as the Undergraduate Jet Training System (UJTS), the new aircraft is intended to replace most, if not all, of the Boeing T-45 Goshawks that currently operate for both intermediate and advanced elements of the Naval Aviator training program.
Key requirements in the RFI are that the aircraft is to be “non-developmental”—that is, an existing type— and that it is to be capable of performing “Field Carrier Landing Practice (FCLP) events and Carrier touch-and-go events.” Crucially, this removes the need for the aircraft to be capable of full carrier operations, including catapult launch and arrested recovery, signaling a considerable change to the Navy’s approach to training carrier pilots.
Whether another aircraft type is employed for the final part of carrier training has yet to be detailed, or indeed if advances in automatic carrier landing and launch technology would render such training as unnecessary.
No timescale is attached to the RFI, although the Navy would like a new aircraft to begin entering service around the end of the decade. The T-45 fleet is undergoing a service life extension program that would allow the Goshawk to serve into the 2040s.
UJTS calls for an aircraft with a top speed of more than Mach 0.84 and a service ceiling of at least 41,000 feet. It should have a sustainable “buffet-free” load factor of more than 3.1g, and it should have two underwing pylons for the carriage of training stores such as rocket pods and practice bomb dispensers. The flight control system should have a precision landing mode capability, while the mission system should be capable of simulating radar and other sensors, and the employment of both air-to-air and air-to-surface weapons. Obvious land-based candidates for the requirement are the Boeing T-7A Red Hawk selected by the U.S. Air Force, as well as losing candidates such as the KAI T-50 and Leonardo M-346.
The Navy estimates it would fly each aircraft for around 400 hours every year, during which it would undertake around 1,200 no-flare landings during FCLP, with around 45 carrier touch-and-goes. Fatigue life is required to be at least 14,400 hours and 43,200 cycles. The RFI also calls for information concerning a ground-based training system.
The aircraft that UJTS is expected to replace was a joint program between McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) and British Aerospace (now BAE Systems) to answer the Navy’s VTX-TS requirement. The heavily modified, carrier-capable Hawk entered service as the T-45A Goshawk in 1991. From 1997 the T-45C with a “glass” cockpit entered service, and earlier aircraft were upgraded to this standard. Since the retirement of the Rockwell T-2C Buckeye from the role in 2004, all prospective Naval aviators have made their first carrier “traps” and launches in the T-45. The fleet was temporarily grounded in 2017 as a result of oxygen system issues.