STOCKHOLM — If Boeing and Saab's trainer wins the U.S. Air Force's T-X competition, the Swedish Air Force will put serious thought into buying it. If another company nabs the contract, however, Sweden will likely opt for a much less expensive turboprop training aircraft, a Swedish Air Force official said Monday.
Sweden currently has an inventory of 50 Saab 105 trainers, which were introduced in the late 1960s. Those planes are aging and increasingly more expensive to maintain, said Col. Magnus Liljegren, head of the Air Force department at the Swedish Armed Forces Headquarters.
Although the Swedish Air Force had planned to begin phasing out Saab 105s in the early 2020s, the government made a decision to continue operating them until about 2025 and 2026 — an outcome that means the service can consider the T-X offering jointly designed by U.S. aerospace company Boeing and Sweden's own Saab.
"We are looking into several different aircraft," Liljegren said during a May 8 briefing to reporters in Stockholm. Defense News accepted travel and hotel accommodations from Saab for the media trip to Sweden.
"[The Boeing-Saab T-X] has all the capabilities that we need, that's for sure," he continued. "That will be a question of money, and it will raise some other questions [like] where can we fly it locally" because of noise.
But Liljegren made clear that other T-X contenders would probably not be an option for the country.
"If Saab-Boeing will not win, we will not take the aircraft that the U.S. Air Force will go for because it doesn't make sense in that case." Then it would pursue a less expensive turboprop plane with a glass cockpit, like the Pilatus PC-21, he said.
"Some of [the T-X competitors] are probably too expensive," Liljegren said, declining to elaborate.
The U.S. Air Force is currently in source selection for the T-X competition and is due to make a final decision later this year. Besides Boeing-Saab's clean-sheet, twin-tailed design, companies have offered three other options.
Lockheed Martin has partnered with Korea Aerospace Industries on the T-50A, a high-performance jet based on the T-50 already in use in South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines and Iraq. Italian firm Leonardo and its U.S. subsidiary DRS put forward the T-100, a souped-up version of the M-346 in use by Italy, Israel and other nations. Sierra Nevada Corporation and Turkish Aerospace Industries have offered the Freedom trainer, a clean-sheet design optimized to be a low-budget option.
Although the U.S. Air Force has incentivized companies to drive down the cost of the T-X competitors as much as possible, any of those aircraft — which are equipped with state-of-the-art avionics and have the performance of a light fighter jet — are likely to cost much more than a turboprop plane. However, the Boeing-Saab collaboration winning the T-X contract would mark a major victory for Swedish aerospace industry, making it an attractive option for Sweden even as it seeks to recapitalize other Air Force assets under a constrained defense budget.
Boeing and Saab have not disclosed the workshare on the T-X, but it’s likely that a significant portion of the jet would be manufactured in Sweden. Last June, aviation enthusiasts noticed a large piece of cargo — likely the center fuselage of the first T-X prototype — was sent from Norrköping to Boeing’s facility in St. Louis, Missouri.
Håkan Bushke, Saab’s CEO and president, said the Saab-Boeing team are angling for a win on the U.S. Air Force competition and would not divulge whether the companies would continue marketing its trainer internationally if it does not nab the contract.
"The international market, I think it’s great. It’s a huge international market for these types of products," he told reporters.
But without the United States as a flagship customer willing to shoulder the expense of starting T-X production, the Swedish Air Force will not consider the Boeing-Saab aircraft, Liljegren said.
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.