Magazine article National Defense

T-X Competition Pits Established Aircraft against New Designs

Magazine article National Defense

T-X Competition Pits Established Aircraft against New Designs

Article excerpt

After years of waiting for the Air Force to move forward with a program to build a new end-to-end jet fighter training system, four teams have come forward to compete for the potentially lucrative contract.

Two of those teams have training aircraft being sold internationally that they say fit all the Air Force requirements. Raytheon and its partner Alenia Aermacchi, part of the Leonardo group of companies, are offering the T-100, which is based on the Italian manufacturer's M-346.

Lockheed Martin is proposing its T-50, an aircraft it developed with Korea Aerospace Industries.

Rivals Boeing-Saab and Northrop Grumman are countering with so-called clean-sheet designs, aircraft they will build from the ground up based on Air Force specifications, although Northrop officials have indicated that the company has a prototype nearly ready to fly.

The Air Force intends to buy 350 of the trainers, which it says are needed to replace the aging T-38. A draft request for proposals went out to industry in late July, with the final RFP due in December, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said recently.

"We're very focused on the future of the trainer force," James said at a talk organized by Defense One.

"I believe that [there] has been an unprecedented level of discussion on requirements with industry about both the baseline requirements as well as what are considered the higher level requirements," she said.

As industry waited for the Air Force to obtain funding from Congress and move forward with the program, several participants over the past two years either left the competition or created new alliances.

BAE Systems--with Northrop Grumman as a partner--at one point was offering the British-built Hawk, a training aircraft BAE has fielded in various iterations since the 1970s. It has withdrawn that aircraft from consideration and joined a newly formed team with Northrop Grumman, which is now serving as the program lead. Northrop announced plans for a new design that it is creating with its subsidiary Scaled Composites, BAE and L-3, which will provide the ground simulators.

The Air Force is calling for potential vendors to deliver an end-to-end solution, which will include the ground-based systems.

General Dynamics announced a partnership with Alenia Aermacchi in 2014 to build a follow-on to the Italian-made M-346, but it withdrew its participation. Raytheon has stepped in as the project lead.

"We consider the T-100 a block upgrade to the baseline M-346," said Dan Darnell, vice president of strategic initiatives for Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems.

"We have an airplane that is mature. It is flying in tour countries now operationally, and all of them are very happy with it," he said.

Singapore, Italy, Israel and Poland have purchased a total of 68 aircraft.

After seeing the draft RFP, Raytheon believes there will be little need for a major redesign. One big change, though, will be a large-area display in the cockpit, which will replace three smaller displays in the M-346.

The Air Force wants a flexible display that can replicate what pilots will see on their screens. It will not only mimic the fourth and fifth-generation fighter aircraft screens, it will allow for live, virtual and constructive training.

Trainees looking at the large-area display will see enemy aircraft and readings from sensors that are not actually there. The embedded tactical training system on the aircraft will give instructors the ability to pre-program a mission on a cartridge and download it into the computer before the lesson. The trainee will see on the display simulated enemy aircraft on a non-existing radar. Such high-tech sensors are too expensive to integrate into training aircraft.

"You can program it the way you want it and display it any way that makes sense to the user," Darnell said. …

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