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Boeing wins USAF T-X jet trainer competition

written by australianaviation.com.au | September 28, 2018

A supplied image of the T-X trainer aircraft. (John Parker/Boeing)
Boeing’s T-X is a clean-sheet design. (John Parker/Boeing)

Boeing and Saab have emerged victorious in securing the highly sought-after United States Air Force (USAF) T-X trainer program worth up to US$9.2 billion.

The USAF said on Thursday (US time) Boeing and Saab’s T-X trainer would replace the Air Education and Training Command’s 57-year-old fleet of Northrop T-38C Talons.

Currently, it plans to purchase 351 T-X aircraft, 46 simulators and associated ground equipment. Looking further ahead, the USAF said the “indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract” allowed for the purchase of up to 475 aircraft and 120 simulators.

“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 a statement.

Unveiled in St Louis in 2016, Boeing and Saab’s all-new T-X design features a single GE F404 engine, twin tails, what Boeing calls “stadium seating” and advanced avionics. More than 90 per cent of the aircraft will be made in the United States, Boeing has said previously. Saab will build the aft fuselage of the T-X, as well as a number of systems.

The Boeing T-X at its official unveiling in 2016. (Boeing)
The Boeing T-X at its official unveiling in 2016. (Boeing)


The partnership between Boeing and Saab was one of three teamings that competed for T-X, with Lockheed Martin teamed with Korean Aerospace, and Leonardo DRS.

Boeing Defence, Space and Security chief executive Leanne Caret paid tribute to everyone who had worked on the Boeing and Saab bid.

“It is a direct result of our joint investment in developing a system centred on the unique requirements of the US Air Force. We expect T-X to be a franchise program for much of this century,” Caret said in a statement.

Saab president and chief executive Håkan Buskhe added: “This selection allows our two companies to deliver on a commitment we jointly made nearly five years ago. It is a major accomplishment for our partnership with Boeing and our joint team, and I look forward to delivering the first trainer aircraft to the US Air Force.”

The USAF said all undergraduate pilot training bases would eventually transition from the T-38 to the T-X.

Further, the T-X program was expected to provide student pilots in undergraduate- and graduate-level training courses with the skills and competencies required to transition to fourth- and fifth-generation fighter and bomber aircraft.

The first T-X aircraft and simulators are due to arrive at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas in 2023.

The USAF said an initial delivery order for US$813 million would provide for the engineering and manufacturing development of the first five aircraft and seven simulators.

The initial operating capability for T-X is planned for 2024, with full operational capability by 2034.

“This outcome is the result of a well-conceived strategy leveraging full and open competition,” assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics Dr Will Roper said.

“It’s acquisition’s silver bullet.”

USAF Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein added: “This is all about joint warfighting excellence. We need the T-X to optimise training for pilots heading into our growing fleet of fifth-generation aircraft. This aircraft will enable pilot training in a system similar to our fielded fighters, ultimately enhancing joint lethality.”

A file image of the T-X trainer. (Boeing)
Boeing’s T-X trainer takes off. (Boeing)

The T-X program may also have longer-term relevance for Australia. Included in the 2016 Defence White Paper’s Integrated Investment Program (IIP) document is a new $5 billion project to replace the RAAF’s Hawk lead-in fighter trainers.

The IIP details a requirement for “a new lead-in fighter training system to support those students who go on to complete the ADF’s fast jet pilot training”. Also, the IIP lists a timeframe of 2022-2033 and a budget of $4-5 billion.

The USAF contract also ensures Boeing maintains a presence in military fast jets as its F-15 and F/A-18 Super Hornets are retired in the coming years.

VIDEO: A look at the T-X first flight in December 2016 from the Boeing YouTube channel.

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Comments (3)

  • Ben


    Could be another smart teaming with the US to get it under FMS. Commonality with the F404 is also a win.

  • Mick C


    Ben the ADF do not buy Trg Aircraft, they buy complete Trg Systems which include the Trg Aircraft, Simulaters and anything else associated with Trg. If they put together the right package at the price then they will be a strong competetor.

  • PAUL


    So why the need for a clean sheet Aircraft? what was wrong with the T50 Golden Eagle via Lockheed Martin which already uses the F404? I could understand if they wanted a trainer that used a Non afterburning F404 or better F414. The F414 has more thrust so without an afterburner would save the USAF & other Airforces millions over time in Fuel & Maintenance. The F404 was designed almost 40 years ago!

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