Could Gripen spawn USAF trainer?

We’re having to cope with something of an autumnal show spike here on The DEW Line, with Dave Majumdar currently at the AFA event in Washington DC and myself having covered the DSEi exhibition in London last week; hence the recent productivity drop on the blog.

As expected, the US Air Force’s long-anticipated T-X trainer need is one of the hot topics at AFA, with whisperings that Boeing and Saab may be close to announcing an offer based around the Swedish firm’s Gripen fighter. Interesting stuff, as I for one had thought that the US company had been working on a new-start design as a potential Northrop T-38 Talon replacement.

So, could a derivative of the Gripen make sense to the USAF?

Two of Saab’s key selling points for the type have always been its low acquisition and operating costs, so faced with offers of high-end dedicated trainers like the Hawk T2, M-346/T-100 and T-50 then why not, beyond the obvious fact that it isn’t a lead-in trainer in its current guise?

In its favour, Saab’s attempts to remove as much US-produced equipment as possible from its developmental E-model fighter would allow a US partner to place significant work back on home turf, were such a teaming to happen. Also worth considering is that considerable work has been conducted to study adapting the Gripen (company-sourced image of a D-model trainer shown below) so that it could be operated from an aircraft carrier deck: that certainly wouldn’t hurt, were the Department of Defense to drive for a joint training type for the air force and navy.

Gripen

I’d file this idea as not being crazy, but certainly as sitting towards the unlikely end of the scale for an eventual T-X outcome. But, as Dave has written from the show, as the USAF’s Air Education and Training Command still doesn’t know when a programme could start, or even how it could be funded, we shouldn’t count on seeing any kind of a T-38 successor for a fair few years yet.

9 Responses to Could Gripen spawn USAF trainer?

  1. Gary Williams 17 September, 2013 at 2:28 pm #

    If operation from an aircraft carrier deck might form part of the selection criteria, would that not favour the Hawk T2 more owing to the T-45 Goshawk being in the same “family”?

  2. Conrad Chun 18 September, 2013 at 1:18 pm #

    Gripen is not an option. Boeing is on the record to build a new purpose built aircraft. These rumors are just that…rumors with no substance.

    • Ed 19 September, 2013 at 5:40 pm #

      Why wouldn’t Boeing offer two options? Probably Saab will do most of the work on the Gripen trainer anyway.

  3. Allan Desmond 20 September, 2013 at 11:29 pm #

    The US is no longer capable of seeing a project thru to fruition at almost any level.
    And certainly not in a price point driven arena such as a advance trainer. The scope and scale of American de-industrialization has quite literally left us with out the understanding of how to format a viable product. This comes from the very top of Industries and government right thru and down to the shop floor worker. Not counting the FA-18 e the USA has managed to produce 188 F-22 and handful of (nearing a 100 at last count) of f-35′s.At a cost of nearly 150 Billion dollars and over a time of twenty five Years.
    Even the vaulted UAV’s has produce more canceled products and have replaced far fewer legacy Platforms than was “the chosen one” hope for.(* Not you General Atomics and your wonderful ever evolving Reaper ‘Bless you).

    • G.R.R. 23 September, 2013 at 8:03 am #

      Sadly, well said.

    • sferrin 29 September, 2013 at 2:10 pm #

      Look at our efforts in high speed, air-breathing flight and it gets even more depressing. I shudder to think how far we’ve fallen in the ability to produce nuclear warheads. Thing is, when you have to scrounge half-century old rocket engines off the ocean floor to see how they were made and the government STILL won’t acknowledge there’s a problem, it’s all over but turning out the lights.

  4. Royce 24 September, 2013 at 1:24 pm #

    It’s very unlikely that a Gripen-based trainer could compete with the economics of a license-built version of the Hawk, T-50, or M-346 trainers. The Air Force is going to be looking to save as much money as possible on T-X, and it’s doubtful that an all-new Boeing design would offer any enough advantage over the existing players in the market to justify the extra cost of development.

    • Amicus Curiae 28 September, 2013 at 12:16 am #

      Granted, the Gripen is too big for the role specified in the request for information. However, the actual procurement specification may be different. All of the contenders on your list are also too big if the T-38 is assumed as the baseline comparator, especially the T-50. It would be an interesting exercise to throw equipment off the Gripen and go back to the F-404 engine. The result will be close to the T-50 in weight and cost, but with better performance. Also, consider the Saab alliance as a threat to Lockheed to counter a change to the spec favoring a jet with more military potential. It would be easy to say the times they are a changin’ and multi-mission is the way to maximize taxpayer investment. Consequently, provisions for point air defence and light ground attack could easily make the big jets required. On the other hand, if my assumption of a lack of discipline against mission creep for the T-X is wrong, a clean sheet of paper design will be the lightest, cheapest, most competitive solution…unless the spec has an off the shelf provision. When the spec comes out, we will see who the strongest lobbyists were. The fix might already be in?

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