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T-X program

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Title: T-X program  
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Subject: Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, TX, BAE Systems Hawk, Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master, KAI T-50 Golden Eagle
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T-X program

The T-X program has been established to enable the United States Air Force to buy a new two-seat jet trainer for fast-jet training to replace the Northrop T-38 Talon; the average age of the T-38 fleet is over 43.5 years.[1] About 350 aircraft are expected to be ordered to replace the T-38, but further purchases could push the overall purchase to over 1,000.[2] The notional in-service date for the replacement trainer was 2017,[3] but shrinking budgets have pushed initial operating capability to around 2023.[4]


The USAF's Air Education and Training Command (AETC) has been developing requirements for the T-38 replacement program since 2003. Originally, the replacement trainer was expected to enter service around 2020. A fatigue failure in 2008 killed the two person crew of a T-38C, advancing the target service date to 2017.[2] In the Fiscal 2013 budget proposal the USAF suggested delaying the initial operating capability to FY2020 with the contract award not expected before FY2016.[5] Shrinking budgets and the need to fund higher priority modernization projects have pushed the IOC the T-X aircraft to “fiscal year 2023 or 2024.” The delay was a direct result of budget constraints, so the T-X was pushed back to support higher Air Force priorities. Although the program was left out of the FY 2014 budget entirely, the service still views the trainer as a priority.[4]

In February 2013 there was an expectation that the program might succumb to budget pressures in the USAF.[6] In May 2013, the T-X industry day was postponed "until further notice" due to the fiscal climate.[7]


One of the driving requirements for the new trainer will be to help prepare pilots for the increased complexity in some areas, particularly information management, that are a part of fifth generation jet fighters like the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II. The aircraft and simulation system will have to fulfill several basic training roles; basic aircraft control, airmanship, formation, instrument and navigation, advanced air-to-air, advanced air-to-ground, and advanced crew/cockpit resource management. Furthermore, there are five advanced training roles that the system is expected to fulfill; sustained high-G operations, aerial refueling, night vision imaging systems operations, air-to-air intercepts, and data-link operations. The 2009 Request For Information (RFI) mentions that some tasks, such as aerial refueling, may be performed in the simulator and not on the aircraft itself.[8]

Additionally, while the RFI is specifically for a USAF trainer, it asks potential suppliers about the feasiblily of a fighter/attack variant of the aircraft and a carrier-capable variant for the United States Navy.[8] However, the requirements manager for the program, Dave McDonald, has stated that it is unlikely that potential combat performance will be considered. Similarly, while Navy officials will be participating in some stages of the program, carrier suitability will not be part of the evaluation.[2]

Potential competitors

Although the formal request for proposals has not been released, several competitors are expected to submit existing aircraft and others are considering all new designs. Those expected to propose existing aircraft are Alenia Aermacchi with the M-346 Master, Korea Aerospace Industries/Lockheed Martin with the T-50 Golden Eagle, and BAE Systems/Northrop Grumman with the Hawk. Boeing was said to be considering several options, including a new aircraft. Boeing had an existing partnership with Alenia to market the M-346 internationally, and also with BAE on the T-45 Goshawk. Boeing instead partnered with Saab Group to offer a training version of the JAS 39 Gripen.

Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master

Italian aerospace company Alenia Aermacchi plans on bidding its M-346 Master for the T-X program. The company had initially considered submitting the aircraft as the prime contractor, but changed its mind in 2010. It is now searching for a U.S. partner to bid with. The company also rebranded the aircraft as the T-100 Integrated Training System for the competition. Alenia anticipates moving the final assembly location from Italy to the United States if it wins the competition.[2] In January 2013, General Dynamics joined Alenia Aermacchi and signed a Letter of Intent (LOI) to compete jointly on the program.[9]

BAE Hawk

BAE Systems, along with Northrop Grumman, is proposing the updated Hawk T2/128 for the T-X program. BAE would like to propose the Hawk T2, which features an all glass cockpit, new wing, and fuselage components. Although the basic Hawk design dates back more than 36 years, the only parts shared between the T1 and T2 versions are the canopy and airbrake, making the T2 version essentially a new aircraft. BAE is counting on a low-risk, low-cost strategy for the competition, augmented by the fact that BAE Hawk-based McDonnell Douglas-Boeing T-45C Goshawk with glass cockpit is currently in use by the U.S. Navy to train Student Naval Aviators and Student Naval Flight Officers slated for tactical jet aircraft in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps. In 2011 BAE announced they were partnering with Northrop Grumman, who would be a manufacturing partner.[10][11] On 13 September 2013, Rolls-Royce announced it would join BAE to offer the Hawk for the T-X program. Rolls-Royce will support the integration of the Adour Mk951 engine.[12]

KAI T-50 Golden Eagle

Lockheed Martin, along with KAI, plan to propose their T-50 for the T-X program. While the T-50 was explicitly designed and built for the South Korean trainer requirement, Lockheed Martin officials have acknowledged that the aircraft was designed with replacing the T-38 in mind. The T-50 may also have an advantage, as Lockheed also builds the F-22 and F-35, the aircraft the new trainer is supposed to prepare pilots for. Lockheed anticipates proposing the T-50 with few changes, mostly avionics related. They are considering moving the assembly location to the United States, from South Korea, if they win the contract.[2]

T-X Gripen

In September 2013, sources with Boeing and Saab Group said they would announce "in weeks" that they would team up to offer the JAS 39 Gripen for the T-X program. Boeing previously indicated that it would offer a new aircraft. The companies believe they can undercut the cost of the Lockheed/KAI T-50. A T-X Gripen, likely based on the JAS-39F, would be slightly larger and more powerful, and have a wide-screen cockpit with a fully integrated helmet-mounted display. Boeing has not confirmed nor denied the Saab deal.[13]

See also


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