The newly appointed head of US Air Force Air Education and Training Command (AETC) acknowledged last week that funds for a replacement trainer won’t be coming in the near future, but said the T-X program remains a priority for his staff.
“My staff is working this issue very hard,” Gen. Robin Rand told reporters Dec. 13 here. “We are already working with headquarters Air Force … on T-X, the requirements, the needs, and I would like to give [Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh] an update.”
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That timetable confirms there won’t be much movement on the T-X program in the next two years, despite heavy interest from industry.
“We know for [2014 and 2015] there are no plans for T-X, and that’s not all bad, because we wouldn’t be ready anyway. But that’s what I want to pin down — get a vector from [Welsh] on when we can have good dialogue on this.”
Rand was speaking at an event celebrating the rollout of the 100th F-35 joint strike fighter. Travel and accommodations were paid for by Lockheed Martin, who is also a partner on one of the T-X offerings.
When asked whether the service would prefer to use an established design for the T-X program, Rand declined to go into specifics.
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“I will provide my bosses the requirements we need to conduct undergraduate pilot training,” he said. “If they want my opinion I’ll give them my opinion, but what I owe them are my requirements to conduct our undergraduate pilot training, and I’ll let them decide, the folks who get paid to do that, whether it’s off-the-shelf, whether it’s already an existing platform, whether it’s going to be one that’s developed.”
Three competitors have offered off-the-shelf designs: the Hawk Advanced Jet Training System, a joint program of BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, L-3 Link Simulation & Training and Rolls-Royce; Lockheed Martin’s offering of the Korean Aerospace Industries T-50; and the T-100, a collaboration between General Dynamics and Italy’s Alenia Aermacchi.
This month, Boeing and Saab announced they would be teaming on a clean-sheet design for the program.
The Air Force is eyeing an initial operating capability date of 2023 or 2024 for the winner of the T-X competition, which will replace the service’s T-38 trainers with 350 new models.
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However, Rand indicated there could be life for the T-38 after T-X, perhaps as an opposition plane during training missions. He also expressed confidence that the older platform will continue to fulfill its training mission for years to come.
“The T-38, with the modifications we’ve already put on, it’s still a good airplane,” Rand said. “What I would tell you, because I have been operational and training, our young men and women who come to the F-16 and F-22, they’re good. Because the T-38 is a high performance airplane. It does all the things, it builds a very good foundation of what we need when you begin fighter training.”
Note: Recently, Boeing and Saabe have partnered to compete with a future project.