WASHINGTON — Lockheed Martin has decided not to offer a clean-sheet design for the US Air Force’s T-X program, instead moving forward with the original plan to offer the T-50A to replace the service's aging T-38 trainer fleet.
Lockheed had been toying with the idea of offering a clean-sheet design for the T-X competition for months, but ultimately concluded that option would pose too much risk to the program’s cost and schedule, according to Rob Weiss, executive vice president and general manager of the company’s advanced development programs, better known as the Skunk Works.
The company late last year completed a study on whether a clean-sheet design would be the best option for the Air Force competition, Weiss told reporters during a media roundtable Feb. 11. But the team concluded that a brand-new blueprint would be about eight times more expensive than the modernized T-50A and would not meet the Air Force’s new target date of 2024 for initial operational capability, he said.
At the same time, moving to a clean-sheet design would add significant risk to the program, Weiss stressed. In order to meet the 2024 IOC date, the team would need to continue developing the plane as production begins, creating an “unacceptable” level of concurrency, he said.
“At the end of the day, it costs more, takes longer, is higher risk and does not add any capability beyond what our modernized T-50 will do,” Weiss said.
By contrast, the T-50A, developed jointly with Korea Aerospace Industries, is ready for production now, Weiss said.
For the T-X offering, Lockheed Martin added capabilities to the existing T-50 in a block upgrade, Weiss said. The upgrades include embedded training, open system architecture, inflight refueling, and a fifth-generation cockpit to better train pilots to fly modern aircraft like the F-35 and the F-22.
Lockheed also announced Feb. 11 that it will build the T-50 at the company’s Greenville Operations facility in Greenville, South Carolina.
Lockheed expects the Air Force to move forward with the T-X competition as planned, with a request for proposals out later this year and a contract award in 2017, said Mike Griswold, company director for T-50 business development. The Air Force's latest budget submission, unveiled Feb. 9, shows research and development funding for the program holding steady, he said.
The T-X program has drawn significant interest from five industry competitors, including Lockheed. The winner of the program, which will replace T-38 advanced trainers with 350 new production models, will likely be set up as the dominant producer of training aircraft for the next two decades.
Competitors include a pair of clean-sheet designs being put forth by a Boeing/Saab team and a Northrop Grumman-led coalition that includes BAE Systems and L-3; a design from Textron AirLand; and Alenia Aermacchi’s T-100 bid.