LINKÖPING, Sweden — The T-X production facility that Swedish defense group Saab is building in West Lafayette, Indiana, “will become one of our major sites,” Håkan Buskhe, the group’s CEO told a media briefing here this week. The trainer aircraft program “opens new opportunities,” he said, predicting considerable global sales.

Buskhe believes the trainer, being built by Boeing with Saab producing and assembling the rear of the fuselage, “is something we will sell around the world. There is huge interest.” For the moment, the $813 million engineering manufacturing and development contract signed in 2018 by the U.S. Air Force with Boeing is for five aircraft. There is a requirement for a further 346 aircraft which will be the subject of a yet-to-be-signed production contract. Boeing believes that 2,600 aircraft could be sold worldwide.

Lars Sjöberg, vice president and head of the trainer business unit, said, “T-X is very, very important for us because it’s a new product in a new market and with a new partner.” He said the speed with which the program had taken off was remarkable: From first concept to maiden flight took just three years, from December 2013 to December 2016. Initial operational capability in the U.S. Air Force is scheduled for 2024.

He recounted how a decade ago Saab approached Boeing “with no specific product or idea. But our approach coincided with Boeing running an internationalization campaign and looking for, preferably, European partners, and the U.S Air Force beginning to talk about a new trainer to replace the T-38 Talon.”

Given that the Talon has been around since 1959, has undergone six major upgrades and will be in operation for another 10 years, Sjöberg expects the T-X to be around until the end of this century.