NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — If a continuing resolution extends past December, the Air Force may consider choosing a winner for the T-X program while deferring the actual award, the service’s uniformed head of acquisition said Tuesday.
The service plans to award a contract for the T-X trainer program by the end of the calendar year. However, if the current continuing resolution that runs until Dec. 8 is extended into 2018, prohibiting new programs from starting, the service may have to reevaluate its options, said Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, the Air Force’s uniformed head of acquisition.
“We will look at options to see if we can award with a delayed start. There are ways, we have done it before, when you award a contract and you delay the start of the contract for a few months,” he said at the Air Force Association’s annual conference.
“But we need some budget certainty before we go do that. If we go to sequestration funding levels, we’re going to have to look at everything that we’re doing. I hate to say the acquisition answer of depends, really, on what the situation is when we get to that point.”
Three industry teams have submitted bids for the T-X program, on which the service expects to spend $2 billion over the next five years. Boeing and Swedish aerospace firm Saab have developed a new, clean-sheet design. Lockheed Martin and Korea Aerospace Industries put forward the T-50A, a take on KAI’s T-50 jet trainer. And Leonardo DRS is offering the T-100, a modified version of the Italian aerospace company’s M-346.
Bunch’s statement is a shift from earlier comments from the Air Force’s top leader, indicating that the service may be rethinking how it could respond to a longterm CR. On Aug. 29, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told Defense News that a T-X award could be delayed if a continuing resolution lasted throughout 2017.
However, when asked if the Air Force would consider choosing a winner without awarding a contract, she said. “Well, what’s the point? We don’t have the money to be able to do it, so you end up delaying a lot of new starts.”
On Tuesday, Wilson rebuffed questions about how T-X could be impacted by a longterm continuing resolution, saying the most important thing was for a CR to not be extended past December.
“There are really no anomalies in this budget, there are no exceptions, there is no list of things that you can go ahead and start this [program] or start that, or go ahead and buy more munitions or continue on with T-X,” she said.
Bunch reiterated Wilson’s statement that Congress finalizing a defense budget was of upmost importance and said the Air Force will not rush a source selection decision. However, he acknowledged that a delay in making a contract award could have ripple effects on the program as whole.
“Are the contractor prices still good? Have we extended out? There are a bunch of different things that we have to look at and weigh out,” he said. “But our goal, because it is a critical capability to replace the T-38s, we want to go as fast as we can.”
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.