The USAF will replace its aging fleet of Northrop T-38 Talon supersonic jet trainers with 350 new aircraft from the T-X competition, spending approximately $16 billion to acquire and maintain the new trainers over the course of their service life – one of the largest USAF contracts in recent times.
The Lockheed Martin/KAI T-50A aircraft configuration is based on South Korea’s FA-50, which is currently in production. The FA-50, the most advanced fighter version of the T-50, incorporates air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons, along with an avionics suite that contains an electronic warfare suite, a multi-mode radar, and an advanced data-link. (Image source: Lockheed Martin)
The seasoned T-38 has been in use since 1961, training nearly 50,000 pilots who would later fly aircraft like the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, McDonell Douglass F-15 Eagle, and Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II. However, as the USAF transitions employs more and more cutting-edge technologies, a next-gen trainer is needed to better facilitate fifth-gen fighter aircraft pilot training for the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lighting II.
Boeing touts that their clean-sheet T-X offering is the only aircraft that is more than 90 percent made in U.S. and “100 percent made for the USAF.” Boeing and Saab have manufactured two completely operational units. (Image source: Boeing)
The winning T-X aircraft will serve as a platform to acclimate pilots to aircraft with extreme agility, full-sensor fusion, integrated avionics, supercruise, and consolidated and integrated battlespace management technologies.
Leonardo DRS recently established plans to manufacture the T-100 in U.S. in a new manufacturing facility in Tuskegee, Ala. The T-100 is based on the Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master and has won four out of the five international trainer contests it has been submitted into. (Image source: Leonardo DRS)
Industry analysts currently favor the Lockheed/KAI T-50A – based on KAI’s T-50 trainer used by South Korea’s Republic of Korea Air Force and co-developed by Lockheed Martin, manufacturer of the F-22 and F-35; and the Boeing/Saab T-X – which, as a completely new design – benefited from additional development time due to the T-X competition’s repeatedly protracted award announcement.
While speculation has floated that the T-X award announcement would occur during the Air Force Association’s Air, Space & Cyber (ASC) Conference from Sept. 17-19, those close to the program hinted at a decision coming through the following week of Sept. 24.
William Kucinski is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include 'literally anything that has to do with space,' past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology. And also sportscars.
Contact him regarding any article or collaboration ideas by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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