T-X program

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T-X program
An air-to-air view of a USAF T-38 Talon from the 560th Flying Training Squadron. The T-38 Talon is to be replaced as a USAF trainer by the aircraft selected during the T-X program.
Project for Fast-jet trainer
Service United States Air Force

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 program is expected to begin in FY 2017.[5]


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.[6] 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.[7] In May 2013, the T-X industry day was postponed "until further notice" due to the fiscal climate.[8] In December 2013 the head of the program said there were no plans for 2014 or 2015, but that he would speak to the chief of staff about the program either in February 2014 or later.[9]

On 20 March 2015, the T-X program requirements were released by US Air Force officials.[10]


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 Air Force first viewed this as unnecessary and costly, but industry analysis showed it to be cheaper in the long run.[11] 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 at 6.5-7.5g,[11] 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.[12] Aircraft availability is to be 80%, but not higher, as that would drive cost too high. Program requirements focus on life-cycle costs rather than just purchase price.[11]

Additionally, while the RFI is specifically for a USAF trainer, it asks potential suppliers about the feasibility of a fighter/attack variant of the aircraft and a carrier-capable variant for the United States Navy.[12] However, the requirements manager for the program, Stephan Lyon, 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] Similarly, the Air Force is considering the possibility of adapting the T-X aircraft to perform light attack and close air support as part of their effort to retire the A-10 Thunderbolt II. With the T-X already invested in, making it a multirole combat and training plane could defray costs of developing a new attack jet that can operate efficiently in a low-threat environment.[13]

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. Textron AirLand is evaluating possible modifications to its Scorpion, currently a single flying prototype, from tactical jet to trainer aircraft to meet the expected T-X requirements.[14][15] Northrop Grumman initially planned to submit the BAE Hawk, but later switched to a new design. 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 new, purpose-built aircraft for offer to the U.S. Air Force.[16]

Raytheon T-100 / Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master

File:Aermacchi M-346.jpg
Alenia Aermacchi M-346 in flight

Italian aerospace company Alenia Aermacchi is part of a bid with its M-346 Master. The company had initially considered submitting the aircraft as the prime contractor, but changed its mind in 2010. The company is offering a variant of 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.[17] In February 2014, CAE Inc. joined General Dynamics and Alenia Aermacchi to offer the T-100 for the T-X program.[18] On 26 March 2015, General Dynamics withdrew as the prime contractor for Alenia Aermacchi's M-346 Master/T-100 offering. GD will not retain its role as the systems integrator for the M-346 Master/T-100 bid.[19] On 22 February 2016, Raytheon announced it was heading the bid for the T-X program, as the primary contractor teamed with Finmeccanica, Honeywell Aerospace, and CAE USA Inc., with a modified M-346 platform, to be called the T-100 using two Honeywell/ITEC_F124 low-bypass turbofan engines.[20][21]

Northrop Grumman

Northrop Grumman had planned to propose an off-the-shelf version of the BAE Hawk

Northrop Grumman, along with partners BAE Systems, L-3, and Rolls-Royce, initially had intentions of proposing an updated version of the Hawk T2/128 for the T-X program. Northrop Grumman assumed prime responsibilities for the team in 2014.[22] Northrop Grumman built the U.S. Air Force's current training aircraft, the T-38 Talon.

The Hawk T2 features an all glass cockpit, new wing, and fuselage components. Although the basic Hawk design dates back to the 1970s, the only parts shared between the T1 and T2 versions are the canopy and airbrake, making the T2 version essentially a new aircraft. The Northrop Grumman team was expecting this to be a low-risk, low-cost strategy for the competition, augmented by the fact that Hawk-based McDonnell Douglas-Boeing T-45C Goshawk with glass cockpit is being used to train Student Naval Aviators and Student Naval Flight Officers slated for tactical jet aircraft for the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps. On 13 September 2013, Rolls-Royce announced it would join the team to offer the Hawk for the T-X program. Rolls-Royce will support the integration of the Adour Mk951 engine.[23]

However, in a significant reversal, it was later reported that Northrop Grumman were no longer submitting the Hawk for T-X consideration, primarily due to airframe performance shortcomings with maneuvers such as high angle-of-attack and sustained Gs, as well as concerns regarding affordability.[24] Instead, Northrop had secretly begun a new clean-sheet design to closely match the evolving T-X requirements. Scaled Composites, a wholly owned subsidiary of Northrop Grumman, will construct the prototype, with a first flight expected near the end of 2015. Northrop has not indicated how many engines the aircraft will have, nor have they publicly announced the name of the project.

KAI T-50 Golden Eagle

T-50 Golden Eagle

Lockheed Martin, along with KAI, plan to propose their KAI T-50 Golden Eagle 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 building a new assembly line in the United States for manufacturing the T-50 for the United States Air Force instead of manufacturing them in South Korea, if they win the contract.[2]

On 17 December 2015, Lockheed and KAI revealed their T-X prototype in South Korea based on the T-50, the first competitor in the program to do so publicly. Referred to as the "T-X demonstrator aircraft," it adds to the T-50 airframe the ability for aerial refueling, embedded ground training systems, and a large area display in place of the five smaller screens. South Korean president Park Geun-hye attended the rollout ceremony. It is expected that ground and flight tests will commence during 2016, and flight tests in the United States should begin in 2017;[25][26][27][28] the aircraft also adds a large dorsal hump, which houses the aerial refueling receptacle.[29]

Textron AirLand

Textron AirLand, a joint venture between Textron and AirLand Enterprises, developed the Textron AirLand Scorpion light attack jet which had potential as a candidate for the T-X program. Textron management stated that with some modifications, such as swapping the two engines with a single engine and changing the wings, the aircraft would be an ideal match for the T-X role.[14] Additionally, during the Farnborough 2014 Airshow, Textron representatives expressed significant interest in the T-X program, and indicated they were closely following the progression of the draft requirements.[15] On 23 August 2014, Textron AirLand formally confirmed they would compete for the T-X trainer and modify the Scorpion to better fit the training requirements.[30] However, in September 2015 Textron AirLand revealed it would not offer a version of the Scorpion for the program due to changing Air Force requirements, moving from a low-cost advanced jet trainer requiring little development to a high-performance fly-by-wire trainer with top tier handling qualities. The company is still interested in the T-X, but would have to offer a clean-sheet design like most of the other competitors.[31][32]

T-X Boeing/Saab

On 6 December 2013, Boeing and Saab Group announced they would team up to offer a new aircraft for the T-X program.[33] The companies believe they can undercut the cost of the Lockheed/KAI T-50.[citation needed]

See also


  1. Butler, Amy (15 September 2010), "T-X Plan Not Likely Until Next Year", Aviation Week, retrieved 17 September 2010<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Trimble, Stephan (22 June 2010), "US Air Force, industry prepare for T-38 replacement", Flight International, retrieved 20 September 2010<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  3. Butler, Amy (9 September 2010), "BAE To Bid Hawk For USAF T-X", Aviation Week, retrieved 17 September 2010<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Budget constraints delay new trainer", Air force times, 15 May 2013<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  5. "Pentagon proposes buying fewer fighters, unmanned aircraft in FY2015 budget", Flight global, 4 March 2014<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  6. "USAF delays T-38 trainer replacement to 2020". Flight global. 17 February 2012. Retrieved 24 February 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Orlando, Dave (22 February 2013). "USAF may not be able to afford T-X jet trainer project". Flight global. Retrieved 24 February 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "USAF postpones T-X trainer industry day", Flight global, 20 May 2013<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  9. Mehta, Aaron (17 December 2013). "New USAF Training Head: T-X Requirements Under Review". Defense news. Gannett Government Media. Retrieved 17 December 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. http://www.af.mil/News/ArticleDisplay/tabid/223/Article/581073/t-x-future-t-38-jet-replacement-requirements-released.aspx
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Butler, Amy (6 April 2015). "T-X Competition Fierce Despite GD, Alenia Split". Aviation Week & Space Technology. Archived from the original on 7 April 2015. Retrieved 7 April 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. 12.0 12.1 Advanced Pilot Training (APT) Family of Systems (FoS) Program (request for information), Federal Business Opportunities, 5 August 2009 [31 March 2009], retrieved 20 September 2010<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  13. Amid Pressure To Keep A-10 Alive, USAF Explores Close-Air Support's Future - Militarytimes.com, 25 August 2015
  14. 14.0 14.1 Mehta, Aaron (16 September 2013). "Textron unveils light attack Scorpion". DefenseNews.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. 15.0 15.1 Felstead, Peter (16 July 2014). "Farnborough 2014: Textron AirLand Scorpion makes international debut". Jane's 360. IHS.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Boeing & Saab sign joint development agreement on T-X family of systems training competition (press release), Saab<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  17. "General Dynamics and Alenia Aermacchi team up on T-X bid", Flight global, 17 January 2013<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  18. "CAE USA Joins General Dynamics T-X Offering", Defense news, 19 February 2014<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  19. "General Dynamics withdraws from T-X with T-100 as prime contractor", Defense news, 26 March 2015<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  20. http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/air-space/2016/02/22/raytheon-announces-bid-usaf-t-x-trainer-competition/80771812/
  21. T-100 Integrated Air Training System, Raytheon, product description, accessed 24 February 2016
  22. Clark, Colin (7 July 2014). "Northrop Takes The Lead From BAE On $11B T-X Trainer". Breaking Defense. Retrieved 16 October 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. "Rolls-Royce Joins Hawk AJT System Team To Compete USAF T-X Program", Defense World, 13 September 2013<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  24. Butler, Amy (6 February 2015). "Northrop Pivots To Clean-Sheet T-X Trainer". Aviation Week. Retrieved 6 February 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. PICTURES: KAI, Lockheed rollout T-X prototype - Flightglobal.com, 17 December 2015
  26. KAI Unveils T-X Contender, Pursues T-50 Exports - Ainonline.com, 18 December 2015
  27. South Korea Unveils Trainer Jet for USAF's T-X Contest - Defensenews.com, 18 December 2015
  28. K-50 T-X, Seoul’s Contender for the USAF Future Trainer Competition - Defense-Update.com, 18 December 2015
  29. Lockheed proposes KAI T-50A for T-X over Skunk Works design - Flightglobal.com, 11 February 2016
  30. "Textron AirLand Developing Scorpion Trainer Variant", Defense news, 26 August 2014<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  31. "Textron AirLand Considers Clean-Sheet T-X Offering", Air force times, 21 September 2015<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  32. "Scorpion will not be proposed for USAF T-X competition", Flight global, 24 September 2015<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  33. "Boeing & Saab sign joint development agreement on T-X family of systems training competition", Boeing, Media room<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.