The Air Force's T-X program will replace the T-38 Talon trainer. (Air Force)
FORT WORTH, TEXAS — The newly appointed head of US Air Force Air Education and Training Command (AETC) acknowledged last week that funds for a replacement trainer won’t be coming in the near future, but said the T-X program remains a priority for his staff.
“My staff is working this issue very hard,” Gen. Robin Rand told reporters Dec. 13 here. “We are already working with headquarters Air Force … on T-X, the requirements, the needs, and I would like to give [Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh] an update.”
Rand, who became head of AETC in mid-October, said his goal was to get a T-X meeting set up with Welsh during the annual Corona meetings in February. “If I don’t do it then, I will do it the next Corona after that,” he added.
That timetable confirms there won’t be much movement on the T-X program in the next two years, despite heavy interest from industry.
“We know for [2014 and 2015] there are no plans for T-X, and that’s not all bad, because we wouldn’t be ready anyway. But that’s what I want to pin down — get a vector from [Welsh] on when we can have good dialogue on this.”
Rand was speaking at an event celebrating the rollout of the 100th F-35 joint strike fighter. Travel and accommodations for reporters were paid for by Lockheed Martin, who is also a partner on one of the T-X offerings.
When asked whether the service would prefer to use an established design for the T-X program, Rand declined to go into specifics.
“I will provide my bosses the requirements we need to conduct undergraduate pilot training,” he said. “If they want my opinion I’ll give them my opinion, but what I owe them are my requirements to conduct our undergraduate pilot training, and I’ll let them decide, the folks who get paid to do that, whether it’s off-the-shelf, whether it’s already an existing platform, whether it’s going to be one that’s developed.”
Three competitors have offered off-the-shelf designs: 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.
This month, Boeing and Saab announced they would be teaming on a clean-sheet design for the program.
The Air Force is eyeing an initial operating capability date of 2023 or 2024 for the winner of the T-X competition, which will replace the service’s T-38 trainers with 350 new models.
However, Rand indicated there could be life for the T-38 after T-X, perhaps as an opposition plane during training missions. He also expressed confidence that the older platform will continue to fulfill its training mission for years to come.
“The T-38, with the modifications we’ve already put on, it’s still a good airplane,” Rand said. “What I would tell you, because I have been operational and training, our young men and women who come to the F-16 and F-22, they’re good. Because the T-38 is a high performance airplane. It does all the things, it builds a very good foundation of what we need when you begin fighter training.”