WASHINGTON — Barring a change in requirements, Textron AirLand will not put forth its Scorpion design for the Air Force's T-X trainer competition, according to a top company executive.
Bill Anderson, president of Textron AirLand, also said in a Feb. 22 interview that developing a brand new, clean-sheet design for the T-X requirements as they exist would be cost-prohibitive for the company.
However, Anderson stressed that the Air Force's requirements for the program are not firm. Until a final set of requirements are in place, Textron will not make a final decision on whether to commit to the program, he said.
"As the requirements exist today, we believe it would take a new design, [and] we would only commit to a cost-effective type aircraft," Anderson said. "I wouldn't want to go all the way to say all of our options are done, so I would just say the requirements as they exist today, Scorpion can't meet it, a derivative of the Scorpion can't meet it, it would be, in our estimation, a very expensive clean-sheet design which we are not willing [to do]."
Asked directly whether the company could compete for T-X with the requirements as they stand, Anderson said: "We can't. We don't have an aircraft right now that would compete."
But if the Air Force decides to go in a different direction with the requirements, Textron AirLand may still offer the Scorpion or a clean-sheet design, Anderson stressed.
Anderson's comments leave open the question of whether Textron AirLand will compete at all for T-X. The Air Force is asking for a fleet of 350 high-performance T-X aircraft to replace the aging T-38s that currently train the service's pilots. The service has put forward an aggressive sustained g requirement for the T-X, and set a high bar for maneuverability as well.
T-X as the Air Force envisions it today requires fly-by-wire technology, high-powered engines and advanced handling qualities that "generally corresponds to high cost," Anderson said.
Although the Scorpion can't meet the stringent requirements the Air Force has put forth, Anderson stressed that the aircraft is fully capable of training jet pilots. Designed primarily as an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platform, Textron AirLand has also positioned the Scorpion as a light strike aircraft. Anderson said he sees a need for a multirole aircraft like the Scorpion particularly in the Middle East, where the current operational tempo is burning out the US and allied fleets.
"The multirole flexibility is actually pretty incredible, that everything can be accomplished from one airplane," Anderson said, stressing the Scorpion's "impressive" slow-speed characteristics and high dash speeds. The jet is a perfect fit for border patrol, counter narcotics, and close-air support missions, he added.
Although the Scorpion does not yet have a launch customer, Textron AirLand is engaged in "serious" discussions with potential buyers in the US and internationally, Anderson said. The aircraft will begin a flight test program this summer, he noted.
"We are committed to Scorpion, the confidence is very high, so I think the future is very bright," Anderson said.
If Textron AirLand does decide to compete for T-X, it will be entering a crowded field. Competitors include the T-100, offered jointly by Raytheon, Finmeccanica and CAE; the Lockheed Martin-Korea Aerospace Industries T-50A; as well as 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.
Industry expects the Air Force to release a request for proposals for T-X later this year, with a contract award in 2017. Initial operating capability is expected in 2024.