A T-38A and T-38C are flown in formation one last time at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Sept. 19. Boeing and Saab have announced that they are teaming on a bid to replace the trainer aircraft. (US Air Force)
WASHINGTON — Boeing and Saab are teaming on a new design for the US Air Force’s trainer competition, the companies announced Friday.
The move creates a fourth entrant in the highly sought contract to replace the Air Force’s fleet of T-38 trainers. The service intends to purchase 350 new trainers, likely pushing the contract award into the billions of dollars.
Boeing will be the prime on the contract, while Saab will act as “primary partner.” The agreement covers design, development, production, support, sales and marketing of the new aircraft.
In September, Defense News reported the companies were close on an agreement on the T-X competition. This marks the first major partnership between the two on a new military platform, where they have previously clashed over global fighter competitions.
While the duo plans to offer a “clean-sheet” design, it would likely draw upon Saab’s years of engineering with the compact Gripen fighter airframe.
Both companies stand to benefit from the agreement.
For Saab, the announcement is proof of further incursion into the US. In October, the company consolidated its defense holdings, a move Saab Defense and Security USA CEO Lars Borgwing said was designed to grow their American market.
The deal also provides a potential new market for Boeing, as the trainer could be marketed globally with Saab’s assistance. More importantly, it provides the American aerospace giant with a new design without the financial risk of going it alone.
The duo joins a crowded field fighting for the right to train America’s next generation of Air Force fighter pilots. Other competitors include the Hawk Advanced Jet Training System, a joint program of BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, L-3 Link Simulation & Training and Rolls-Royce; Lockheed Martin’s offering of the Korean Aerospace Industries T-50; and the T-100, a collaboration between General Dynamics and Italy’s Alenia Aermacchi.
While the competitors are lining up, it remains unclear when the trainer competition may actually move forward.
The Air Force is targeting a request for proposals on its next trainer by fiscal 2016, with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh telling a May 8 Senate hearing that his office is looking at initial operational capability (IOC) in “fiscal year 2023 or 2024,” delayed from the previously announced 2020 IOC date.
That date may even end up optimistic. Acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning told a crowd in November that there is “little money” for new-start programs due to sequestration, and while Welsh has identified a new trainer as a “top five” priority, it is not one of the programs expected to be protected under the sequestered budget. ■