T-X Trainer Hopefuls at Air Force Show in Full Force Despite Lack of Funding

By Stew Magnuson

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — For the third year in a row, BAE Systems has hauled its mobile home-sized display for the T-X jet fighter trainer program to the annual Air Force Association show here, but for the third year in a row the service has no funding to kick start the program.

A lack of funding for an aircraft the Air Force says it sorely needs to train pilots for the next-generation jet fighters such as the F-35 is not stopping the three main competitors for the program from putting up displays showing their offerings for the T-X. It is not a matter of "if" the Air Force will have to come up with the money, but "when," executives here said. And there are international sales in the works as well.

"It is a very challenging budget environment, and it is very hard to find the money," Robert Wood, vice president and general manager, support solutions at BAE Systems, told National Defense Sept. 16.

The current T-38 aircraft the Air Forces uses to train its pilots is not well suited for fifth-generation fighters such as the F-22 and F-35. It has undergone some upgrades, but as an aging aircraft it is becoming more expensive to maintain. The Air Force is hoping to have new trainers beginning around 2023, executives said.

BAE just prior to the show announced a partnership with Rolls Royce to provide new engines if it should win an upcoming competition. BAE is offering an aircraft based on its Hawk Advanced Jet

Training System. Earlier this year, Italian aircraft manufacturer Alenia Aermacchi announced it was teaming up with U.S. defense giant General Dynamics as its partner.

The Air Force received about $1 million in the 2014 budget as a bridge to keep the program office open, but nothing else.

As for BAE, its manufacturing line is running. It is working on delivering Hawk orders for the Royal Saudi Air Force, and the Omani Air Force totaling 30 aircraft.

"Our line is up and running. We are building them today in the U.K. right now," Wood said. Poland is also in the market for a new trainer and is expected to buy about a dozen, he said. BAE, Alenia Aermacchi and Lockheed Martin, the third T-X contender, are all expected to compete for that contract, Wood said.

All three manufacturers have existing aircraft to offer the Air Force, or international customers. Lockheed Martin is in a partnership with Korean Aerospace Industries, and is offering the T-50.

Jim Ravella, senior training manager, USAF T-X program at General Dynamics C4 Systems, said "it is a program we know is going to go forward, it is just a matter of when."

The Air Force did hold an industry day earlier this year, and released some updated requirements last week, but the were no major revisions, he said. The purpose of the industry day was for the Air Force to find out what was possible, he said.

"It is something they have to have," Ravella said. The Air Force can only fly the 1970s era T-38, the current jet fighter trainer, for so long, he said "Its sustainment costs are just going to go up and up," he added.

General Dynamics, the U.S. partner, is going to provide logistics, integration and the ground-based part of the training system for its T-100 trainer, while Alenia provides its M-346 aircraft. GDC4 Systems is also the face of the partnership at the trade show.

Lockheed Martin executives working on the T-X program were also at the AFA show, but could not be reached for comment.

Topics: Aviation, Joint Strike Fighter, Simulation Modeling Wargaming and Training

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