General Dynamics Teams With Italian Jet Maker for U.S. Air Force Trainer Competition
The team will be offering the T-100 Integrated Training System, an Italian-built aircraft. The trainer is based on the M-346 manufactured in partnership with Russia’s Yak Aircraft Corp.
“It is really quite an aircraft … that is winning global competitions,” said General Dynamics C4 Systems President Chris Marzilli.
Italy, Singapore and Israel have ordered a total of 57 aircraft as of last year with a pending order from the United Arab Emirates.
Although the T-100 is considered an off-the-shelf aircraft there will be work adapting it to U.S. Air Force specifications and providing a large ground-based flight simulator system and logistics for servicing the aircraft, Marzilli said in an interview.
“They need a U.S. prime to pull that together, and GD, and particularly C4 systems has a long heritage of complex systems integration and putting together large bids,” he added. “It’s a big management challenge. It’s a big technical challenge. It’s a big logistics challenge.”
With a planned buy of 350 aircraft along with the simulators, and an estimated cost of $11 billion to $17 billion over the contract’s lifetime — including sustainment costs — competition will be fierce.
The aircraft will be built in the United States. How much of the pre-assembly will take place in Italy is something that hasn’t been decided yet. Some of that will depend on how quickly the Air Force wants to ramp up production, said Mike DiBiase, vice president of General Dynamics T-X program.
“It will meet the test of ‘Made in the U.S.A.,’” Marzilli said, noting that many of the Italian-built T-100s’ subcomponents already originate in the United States. The companies have not chosen a manufacturing location yet.
Other team members may come on board. “There is obviously room in a job this complex and of this scale for partners as well,” Marzilli said.
The Air Force has a list of about 12 training gaps that the T-38, the current trainer developed in the 1970s, can’t fill. Among the top needs are sensor management, air-to-air intercepts, sustained G-force, night vision training and air-to-air refueling.
The Air Force is holding an industry day on Jan. 29 to 30 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. That follows a request for information that came out in October. “They are starting to communicate with industry and that is always a good sign,” DiBiase said.
Other candidates will be BAE Systems with its updated version of the Hawk, a purpose-built trainer that has been in production since the 1970s. It has partnered with Northrop Grumman, which will do the manufacturing, and L-3 Link Simulation and Training.
Lockheed Martin will also be in the hunt. It is offering another off-the-shelf aircraft, the T-50, which it is building in South Korea with its manufacturing partner Korean Aerospace Industries.
The Boeing Co., meanwhile, does not have an off-the-shelf aircraft, but executives have expressed interest in competing for the program.
A Boeing spokesman told National Defense last year its analysis shows that a “purpose-built solution will provide the most affordable and effective solution to the Air Force’s advanced flight training requirements.”
The relatively new F-22 and the upcoming deployment for the F-35 will hasten the need for a trainer that can accommodate these fourth- and fifth-generation fighters, executives have said.
The F-22 and F-35 are single seat aircraft. In the past, a pilot would come out of the training program and go into a two-seat F-16 or F-15, and receive additional operational training in a squadron. They will not have that luxury the first time they take the stick in the new fighters.
General Dynamics was the original manufacturer of the F-16 until it sold that part of its business to Lockheed Corp. in 1993. It now owns business jet manufacturer Gulfstream Aerospace.
Photo Credit: Alenia Aermacchi North America