July 11, 2012
After a long flirtation with the concept of a partnership to offer a foreign fast-jet trainer to the U.S. Air Force as a T-38C replacement, Boeing will forgo an off-the-shelf bid in favor of a new-build design or opt not to bid at all.
“We have looked at a lot of different options. But our belief is the aerospace industry and the defense industry need somebody who can come in and provide disruptive innovation,” says Chris Chadwick, president of Boeing Military Aircraft, in an interview with Aviation Week. “By year end, we will have agreed internally how we are going to move forward, and how and if we team for a clean-sheet design.”
The field of T-X competitors includes BAE with a Hawk aircraft, Alenia Aermacchi (which is shopping for a U.S. partner) with the M346 (a derivative of the Russian Yak-130) and the Lockheed Martin/Korea Aerospace Industries T-50. The Air Force plans to buy 350 of the trainers as well as ground-based training systems and aids; a competition is unlikely to start before 2013.
Saab is said to also be considering a Gripen-based trainer offering. Despite speculation to the contrary, the Yak-130 will not be in the running, says Konstantin Popovich, head of Russia’s Yakovlev engineering center. “Since we have good relations with Aermacchi [which builds a derivative of the aircraft in Italy] . . . we are trying to be realistic,” Popovich told reporters during a briefing here July 11. “We understand that is the Western option of the aircraft” for the Air Force’s T-X competition.
Air Force officials have indicated they are strongly leaning toward an off-the-shelf purchase owing to a desire to reduce the cost of development.
Chadwick, however, says the company feels it can build a new aircraft without an escalated development price by rejecting the urge to infuse new and unproven technologies into the design.
As the Pentagon continues to feel financial pressure from social program demands on the U.S. budget, military officials should embrace new ways to acquire hardware that allow for reduced cost and time to field, Chadwick says.
In an effort to be more nimble, the company is aggressively pursuing ways to offer systems to the Pentagon at a reduced cost by taking on some of the development risk. A forthcoming T-X design, if it materializes, is one example.
Another is a proposal by Boeing to expand on the work on the Navy’s 737-based P-8 maritime surveillance aircraft with a 737-based offering overland and air-surveillance capabilities now provided by Air Force 707s. They say the Air Force can benefit from the nonrecurring engineering already paid for by the Navy and spend precious dollars on tailoring the mission systems for its requirements.