LONDON — Whether or not it wins the US Air Force T-X trainer competition, Boeing and Saab are likely to market their next-generation trainer design around the globe.
Speaking to reporters Sunday in London, Boeing defense head Leanne Caret expressed confidence in the trainer design, even as she continued to keep details of the heretofore mysterious trainer design close to the vest.
"Regardless of T-X or any of our weapon systems, the reason we have been so successful is because we take a global view of all of our product lines," Caret said in response to a question about marketing the jet outside the US. "So I don't look to T-X being any different in that regard."
The T-X competition will replace the service's aging T-38 trainer design with 350 new planes, high-end enough to train pilots on the F-22 and F-35 fighters. The Air Force expects to issue a request for proposal at the end of this year, with the trainer going fully operational in 2024.
In addition to the Boeing-Saab team, Lockheed Martin and KAI are offering the T-50A while Raytheon, Leonardo and CAE are teamed on the T-100, based on the M-346 design. Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems and L-3 are collaborating on a clean-sheet design, as well.
The global trainer market remains strong, so marketing the design globally makes sense. However, winning the T-X competition will remain the primary focus of all those involved in the competition, as the size of the US buy — which could potentially grow in the future — represents a procurement few other nations could match.
Additionally, many countries are likely to follow the US lead in selecting a trainer, especially those which operate the F-35.
"It's a competition," Caret said simply when asked how important a T-X win is for her company. "We're all going to — we're competing. The government's requirement haven't been fully released, so as their request of proposal comes out we'll all be responding appropriately. I'm, very confident in our team and our team's approach and the solution we're providing, and we look forward to winning."
And part of Boeing's competitive strategy is mystery. Little has been revealed about the jet, aside from the fact it is a co-development with Saab and concept art showing the nose of a jet.
That's by design, Caret said.
"We're in the middle of a competitive procurement and part of that is the element of surprise, so how about I just say 'you're going to be surprised,' " she said when asked for more details. She also would not confirm if work would be done at Boeing's St. Louis factory, as is widely expected.
"We're not at the point yet where we've made the decision what our bid will be," Caret said, hinting that the design is still being refined. "Because it is competitive, we'll choose" not to share more details.
Some of those details may have emerged last month, however, when aviation spotters in Sweden captured shots of what appeared to be large containers shipping parts from Saab to Boeing. Local reports later quoted sources at Saab saying they were related to T-X, although neither company would comment.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.