The T-X jet train­ers to be ac­quired in the near fu­ture, are meant to re­place the fleet of Northrop T-38C Talons cur­rently op­er­ated by the USAF and are nearly six decades old


On Septem­ber 27 this year, the United States Air Force (USAF) made an an­nounce­ment re­gard­ing the award of a de­fence con­tract val­ued at $9.2 bil­lion, to a part­ner­ship com­pany of Boe­ing De­fence with Swedish aero­space and de­fence firm Saab. The con­tract is for the pro­duc­tion and sup­ply of 351 T-X jet train­ers along with 46 flight sim­u­la­tors as also as­so­ci­ated ground equip­ment. The T-X jet train­ers to be ac­quired in the near fu­ture by the USAF, are meant to re­place the fleet of Northrop T-38C Talons cur­rently op­er­ated by the Air Ed­u­ca­tion and Train­ing Com­mand of the USAF and are nearly six decades old. Their re­place­ment has in­deed been long over­due.

This is the third ma­jor con­tract to be bagged by Boe­ing De­fence in the last one month or so dur­ing which, Boe­ing de­fence has been awarded a con­tract to build the first four

MQ-25 un­manned aerial tankers for the US Navy. This con­tract is val­ued at $805 mil­lion. This was fol­lowed by an­other con­tract val­ued at $2.38 bil­lion that was awarded by the USAF to Boe­ing De­fence and Leonardo com­bine, to man­u­fac­ture 84 MH-139 heli­copters to re­place the fleet of UH-1N Huey heli­copters. This new fleet of heli­copters will be em­ployed to guard the na­tion’s land based nu­clear mis­sile si­los, a re­spon­si­bil­ity that at present is shoul­dered by the fleet of UH-1N Huey heli­copters.


The T-38C Talon built by Northrop Grum­man, which is to be re­placed by the T-X, is a twin-en­gine, two-seat, ad­vanced jet trainer held on the in­ven­tory of the USAF and is re­puted to be the world’s first su­per­sonic jet trainer. In­ducted into ser­vice with the USAF in 1961, amongst the jet train­ers the world over, it is the high­est in num­bers pro­duced in the his­tory of jet train­ers. Apart from the USAF, the Na­tional Aero­nau­tics and Space Ad­min­is­tra­tion (NASA) of the US and the US Naval Test Pi­lots’ School, the T-38C Talon is cur­rently op­er­ated by the Air Forces of Ger­many, Por­tu­gal, South Korea, Tai­wan and Turkey. Pi­lots of other NATO na­tions do get to fly the T-38C Talon while un­der­go­ing joint train­ing pro­grammes with USAF pi­lots.

The his­tory of devel­op­ment of the T-38C can be traced back to the 1950s, to the days of the Eisen­hower ad­min­is­tra­tion. This plat­form was be­ing de­vel­oped to re­place the sub­sonic sin­gleengine Lock­heed T-33 Shoot­ing Star train­ers. The T-38 re­tained the same gen­eral air­frame de­sign as that of the Northrop F-5 Free­dom Fighter and the F-20 Tiger Shark line of air­craft. In all, around 1200 of the T-38 Talon air­craft have been built in the pe­riod 1961 to 1972 and this fleet has been the jet train­ing plat­form for more than 72,000 pi­lots of the USAF. Cur­rently, over 500 T-38C Talon air­craft con­tinue to be in ser­vice with the USAF and NASA alone.

One aspect in the pro­gramme for re­place­ment of the T-38C Talon was that the US aero­space gi­ant Northrop

Grum­man did not par­tic­i­pate in the ten­der­ing process. This was some­what sur­pris­ing as well as in­trigu­ing as it was this US aero­space firm that had built the T-38C Talon. Northrop Grum­man had ini­tially an­nounced that it would part­ner with BAE Sys­tems of the United King­dom to of­fer an up­dated ver­sion of BAE’s Hawk T2 in re­sponse to the ten­der for the next gen­er­a­tion train­ers for the USAF. The up­dated ver­sion of BAE’s Hawk T2 it­self was an up­dated ver­sion of a 1970s-era trainer. How­ever, that plan was jet­ti­soned in favour of a “clean sheet” de­sign specif­i­cally for the T-X con­test.


As a part of the suc­cess­ful con­tract for the next gen­er­a­tion trainer plat­form, the USAF will have the op­tion to pur­chase up to 475 T–X trainer air­craft as also 120 flight sim­u­la­tors. If the pro­ject moves for­ward in ac­cor­dance with the plan, the first of the new two-seat jet train­ers will join the USAF by late 2023, along with state-of-art, flight sim­u­la­tors. The con­tract also in­cludes ground train­ing sys­tems, mis­sion plan­ning and pro­cess­ing sys­tems, sup­port equip­ment as well as spares. As per the USAF, the T-X pro­ject that was orig­i­nally priced at around $19.7 bil­lion, was re­duced by Boe­ing De­fence and Saab by as much as $10.5 bil­lion to $9.2 bil­lion. Com­pet­i­tive bid­ding was one of the fac­tors that con­trib­uted to bring­ing the price down, mak­ing it much more af­ford­able for the USAF.

Ini­tial Op­er­a­tional Ca­pa­bil­ity (IOC) for the T-X is sched­uled to be achieved by the end of 2024 when the first squadron and its as­so­ci­ated sim­u­la­tors are all avail­able for train­ing. Fi­nal Op­er­a­tional Ca­pa­bil­ity (FOC) is pro­jected to be achieved by 2034. There is also a strong pos­si­bil­ity of de­mand of a re­spectable level in the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket for this next gen­er­a­tion jet trainer es­pe­cially from the Air Forces of those na­tions that plan on in­duct­ing the fifth gen­er­a­tion F-35 Light­en­ing II Joint Strike Fighter or other equiv­a­lent plat­forms as and when avail­able in the mar­ket. This un­doubt­edly, will prove to be a bo­nanza for Boe­ing De­fence-Saab com­bine. In ad­di­tion, this pro­ject will prove to be an in­spi­ra­tion for Boe­ing to em­bark on the devel­op­ment and man­u­fac­ture of com­bat plat­forms to re­place the sev­eral fourth gen­er­a­tion ma­chines that are cur­rently in ser­vice, but are fast ap­proach­ing the end of the to­tal tech­ni­cal life.


The de­sign of the T-X jet trainer of­fered by Boe­ing De­fence, was an orig­i­nal one and was not an up­graded ver­sion based on an ex­ist­ing air­craft. Of­fers by the other com­pet­ing aero­space firms on the other hand, were es­sen­tially up­grades based on pre­vi­ously de­vel­oped air­craft. Lock­heed Martin Cor­po­ra­tion had of­fered the T-50A which was based on the FA-50, a light at­tack and trainer air­craft de­vel­oped with Korea Aero­space In­dus­tries and Leonardo’s T-100, which is based on the light at­tack and trainer air­craft which is a de­riv­a­tive of the Ale­nia Aer­ma­c­chi M-346 Mas­ter. Boe­ing’s orig­i­nal de­sign thus emerged as the pre­ferred plat­form over the other two com­peti­tors. Dr Will Roper, As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary of the USAF, also de­fended the se­lec­tion by the ser­vice of Boe­ing’s of­fer of the trainer air­craft de­sign, which was the only pro­posed air­craft that was not a mod­i­fied ver­sion of an ex­ist­ing plane. “There are a lot of rea­sons why Boe­ing T-X is the best choice,” says Ted Torg­er­son, the com­pany’s T-X Pro­gramme Man­ager. “We de­signed the en­tire sys­tem, the air­craft, ground-based train­ing and sup­port to­gether from the ground up, which pro­vides en­hanced ef­fi­cien­cies.”

Boe­ing de­signed its clean-sheet T-X jet trainer in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Saab, though more than 90 per cent of the air­craft is planned to be man­u­fac­tured in the US. This pro­ject is ex­pected to cre­ate em­ploy­ment for as many as 17000 per­sons, spread across 34 states in the US. “This new air­craft will pro­vide the ad­vanced train­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties we need to in­crease the lethal­ity and ef­fec­tive­ness of fu­ture Air Force pi­lots,” Sec­re­tary of the Air Force, Heather Wil­son said in the state­ment. This is par­tic­u­larly rel­e­vant as the USAF is rapidly grad­u­at­ing to fifth gen­er­a­tion plat­forms and it is only a mat­ter of time that the ser­vice would be knock­ing on the doors of the sixth gen­er­a­tion fighter and bomber air­craft. “This is all about joint war-fight­ing ex­cel­lence. We need the T-X to op­ti­mise train­ing for pi­lots head­ing into our grow­ing fleet of fifth gen­er­a­tion air­craft,” said Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen­eral David L. Gold­fein. “This air­craft will en­able pi­lot train­ing in a sys­tem sim­i­lar to our fielded fight­ers, ul­ti­mately en­hanc­ing joint lethal­ity,” he added.

Boe­ing de­signed its clean-sheet T-X jet trainer in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Saab, though more than 90 per cent of the air­craft is planned to be man­u­fac­tured in the US

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