ORLANDO, Fla. — The requirements for the US Air Force's next-generation trainer will be released within "weeks," the service's top training official said on Thursday, while dropping hints about what those may look like.
"We're pretty close to having it done," Gen. Robin Rand, head of Air Education and Training Command (AETC), told reporters at this week's Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando.
"We're hopeful that here soon the secretary will authorize us to release the requirements. That decision is with her, but we're in a good place," he said, noting the requirements have been reviewed by the Air Force Requirements Oversight Council. "We're not talking years. We're not talking months. Hopefully we're talking weeks."
While Rand did not go into details on what is actually in those requirements, he did offer some hints.
The general is clearly focused on keeping requirements creep from infecting the program, emphasizing that T-X as currently constructed is only to develop a replacement for the T-38.
In the president's budget request, there is a small amount of funding under T-X for using it as an aggressor training system. Rand, however, insisted that the program is focused solely just on advanced pilot training requirements.
"if there's any money in there, it's not come to my attention, it wouldn't be under my purview, because I'm not the person who is going to make those decisions," he said. "We're working hard to make sure we stay to the requirements for advanced pilot training.
"There is no decision that's been made yet to use the T-X in any other capacity," Rand added. "There will be discussions, but that's not been decided." He added that there is no requirement to decide about other uses for T-X this year.
However, Rand said, the requirements as being built will leave space for future upgrades to the program, whether that means the ability to turn the T-X into an aggressor aircraft or just to keep it up to date with new technologies.
"We don't want buyer's remorse. It's a 50-year-plus aircraft," Rand said. "We think our requirements will allow the airplane to absolutely do those things…. Will it have that capability [to upgrade in the future]? We think it will, but it's got to be done affordably."
As an example, Rand pointed to the question of whether T-X will have a radar, something that would be required if T-X is eventually turned into a Red Air jet.
"We don't teach how to use a radar in pilot training. So unless industry can get real smart, I don't expect the T-X will come with a radar unless they can do it really smart and don't drive the cost up," Rand said. "Will it have the capability to add a radar into it? I think there's a good possibility it will have something that can meet that need.
"But it won't be for free, so we're being very specific in what we're telling industry. These are the must-haves. If you can figure out a way to do some of these other things without driving the cost, we'll figure out that."
That has not been made.
Another key attribute for the program will be its simulator capabilities.
"Simulation will be a big part of this program," Rand said, noting that while the focus has been on the plane itself, the goal remains the family-of-systems approach. "One without the other will not be good," he added.
While stressing that affordability will be important for the program, Rand said there is no price range being built into the requirements that contractors must meet. Instead, he's hoping that the natural competition that has sprung up around T-X will help drive costs for the winning bid down.
Rand also praised his team for how it has communicated with the industry competitors.
"We're being very specific with what we're telling industry. These are the must-haves," Rand said. "I'm really proud of how this went. We have had fantastic dialogue over the last six months with industry. So there are no terrible surprises when the requirements come out."
The T-X program is intended to replace the Air Force's fleet of T-38 training aircraft with a more highly advanced jet capable of training pilots for use in fifth generation fighters like the F-22 and F-35. The service plans on issuing a request for proposals n RFP on the program in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2016, with a projected contract award in the fall of 2017.
The service signaled its intention to move ahead with T-X in its fiscal 2016 budget request, which earmarked $11.4 million for research-and-development funding. That number escalates to $12.2 million in fiscal 2017, then jumps up to $107.2 million in 2018, $262.8 million in 2019 and $275.9 million in 2020.
There are two clean-sheet teams going head-to-head for the program in Northrop Grumman and a Boeing-Saab cooperative, while two legacy systems are being offered in the form of Lockheed Martin's offering of Korean Aerospace Industries' T-50, and the T-100, a collaboration between General Dynamics and Italy's Alenia Aermacchi based on the latter's M-346 design. Textron AirLand is also planning to enter a trainer variant of its new Scorpion jet in the competition.