New USAF Training Head: T-X Requirements Under Review

T38C Trainer
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.”

Rand, who became head of AETC in mid-October, said his goal was to get a T-X meeting set up with Welsh during the annual Corona meetings in February. “If I don’t do it then, I will do it the next Corona after that,” he added.

Candidate 1 BAE Hank
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.

Candidate 2 KAI T 50 (my favorite)
“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.

Candidate 3 Alenia M346
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.