A Swedish manufacturer Saab's Gripen F fighter performs during a flight demonstration in 2012. The head of Boeing's defense arm said the new trainer the US firm is co-designing with Saab for the US Air Force will look different than the Gripen. (Fabrice Coffrini / AFP)
Farnborough International Airshow
LONDON — When Boeing and Saab unveil their co-design of a new trainer for the US Air Force, it will look different from the Swedish firm’s Gripen fighter, the head of Boeing’s defense arm said Sunday.
“I can unequivocally tell you it’s not Gripen, or son of Gripen,” Chris Chadwick said during a media briefing held at Boeing’s London office ahead of this week’s Farnborough International Airshow.
When Boeing announced last December that it was teaming with Saab to design a new plane specifically for the T-X requirement, it joined a crowded field that includes three other teams. All three of the competitors are offering designs that have seen extensive use in the past, leaving Boeing and Saab as the only group to create a new platform.
Analysts have been skeptical that a bespoke design could be cost efficient enough to win the service’s contract, but Chadwick expressed confidence in the strategy.
“Our design process is moving along very smartly and we will be able to fly in a timely fashion to show the Air Force that this is a viable option,” he said of the decision to offer a “clean sheet” design. “We’re going to see how it all plays out and how the requirements come together that will determine what we need to do to compete.”
He then elaborated on why Boeing chose to work with Saab, citing its ability to produce a very capable fighter in the Gripen despite a relatively small industrial base.
“When you think about Saab, [Sweden is a] small country that created a great capability in the Gripen and had to do it in a cost-constrained environment. When they design, they design in a more compact fashion,” Chadwick said. “So we’ve learned a lot about how they design and develop, and they’ve learned a lot from us about what we’ve done in terms of bringing some of our technology we’re able to pull out of Phantom Works.”
“So that collision of ideas, in terms of how do you design — how do you bring that capability in, how do you mature it, how do you simulate it in the virtual warfare center — it’s those different capabilities from the different companies that come together to offer a better offering in the long term.”
“When you mix those together, what is happening is we’re creating this culture that is allowing us to move faster, design smarter, and hit the price targets that we have that we think will differentiate ourselves from the other three competitors that are in the marketplace.”
Although not one of the “big three” recapitalization programs the Air Force is focused on, the T-X remains a priority for the service.
“The next-generation trainer, the T-X, is sort of existential to the Air Force,” service undersecretary Eric Fanning said in a May interview . “The trainers we’re using now are really old, well past their expected life, and if we do not have those, we cannot train to the next level of platforms.”
The T-X program will receive $600 million over the course of the five-year period known as the Future Years Defense Program, according to the service’s budget plan. The Air Force hopes to award a contract in FY 2017.