WASHINGTON — If Textron AirLand decides to submit a design for the US Air Force's next-generation trainer, it will be a new design and not a reworking of its Scorpion aircraft, a top company official told tells Defense News.
Textron AirLand President Bill Anderson said in an interview last week that the Scorpion, designed to be an ISR/strike platform, "is not a T-X competitor" based on the service's requirements, adding that his company winning the service's T-X competition will "require a new design."
That is a change from a year ago, when Textron expressed a belief that a modified Scorpion would allow them to compete. Those proposed modifications included shortening the wings from 47 feet to something smaller and more aerodynamic, as well as increasing the thrust in the engine.
The T-X competition will replace the Air Force's aging fleet of T-38 trainers with 350 new jets. A contract award is expected in the latter half of 2017.
If you need a clear example of how the perception around T-X has changed in the year since, take the comment by Stephen Burke, regional vice president for military business development at Textron AirLand, last August:
"The Air Force has made it absolutely clear they're not interested in development aircraft," Burke said at the time. "It's our intention to have that aircraft flying that meets the training objectives" of the program.
Since then, the team led by Northrop Grumman has changed its mind and abandoned the Hawk trainer design for a clean-sheet development, while General Dynamics stepped away as the prime contractor on the T-100 bid organized around Alenia Aermacchi's M-346 trainer design.
And now, it appears, Textron is joining the clean-sheet crowd.
"The Air Force current requirements call for a very high performance aircraft," Anderson said. "The Scorpion is a multirole aircraft but was maximized for ISR/strike. So I would be uncomfortable calling it a 'modification' after studying and looking at the draft requirements."
"I don't know what we could really reuse," he noted.
However, any new design will draw from the "lessons learned" about manufacturing and designing the Scorpion, Anderson said. adding, "We would reuse the IP we gained when we built the Scorpion."
He also raised some question about whether the company will continue to pursue the contest at all, depending on what the final requirements end up being.
"We would use lessons learned to create a new aircraft should we choose to compete for T-X, but until the Air Force nails the requirements and their budget, it's difficult for us to make a decision on if we should continue to compete for T-X," Anderson said.
"We're definitely interested in it," he said. "We attend all the meetings, we're following it, the Air Force has asked for a lot of information and we have been very upfront with the Air Force."
Designed primarily as an ISR platform, Textron has also positioned the Scorpion as a light strike aircraft. The company claims the cost per flying hour sits below $3,000, with a design based around a modular payload.
With over 500 flying hours on the Scorpion prototype design, Textron is gearing up to begin production on a second jet, one which will incorporate a series of design changes based on pilot and engineer feedback.
Those changes primarily involve taking weight out of the design, particularly in the landing gear, Anderson said. It will also involve adding more sweep to the wings.
"It is definitely just a refinement of the design we have now," he said. "To the untrained eye you will not be able to see the difference."
In the meanwhile, Textron continues its hunt for a first customer for the Scorpion. While declining to name potential customers, Anderson said the summer, which featured the second trip to an international air show for the design, was "very exciting."
Asked directly how long the company could afford to continue to support the Scorpion without a customer, Anderson said he was "very happy" with how things are going.
"These things take time. Textron is committed to building the production-forming airplane, and that's what we're doing. That should indicate a level of confidence that we have in our program."