So it’s official. After persistent rumours which first surfaced earlier this year, Boeing and Saab have confirmed teaming up to pursue the US Air Force’s elusive T-X trainer requirement. But no, this isn’t some half-hearted rehash of the Swedish manufacturer’s Gripen, but an all-new, clean-sheet design.
Why would they do this, you might ask? Boeing has long been suspected of trying to create a new platform to eventually replace the USAF’s Northrop T-38 Talons (USAF image above), having ended its previous relationship with the UK’s BAE Systems, through which they delivered about 200 T-45 Goshawks to the US Navy. It also at one point considered working with Alenia Aermacchi on a version of the latter’s M-346, but went cold on that idea. Adapting an existing trainer clearly isn’t a winning strategy, to its mind.
Having pitched its F/A-18E/F Super Hornet against Saab’s Gripen in a number of contests, including an ongoing battle in Brazil, Boeing knows that the Swedish firm is able to develop a good product at a cost that some others just can’t match, and do so with enviable in-service support costs. Working together with Saab North America, it hopes to be able to pitch something for the T-X fleet that can offer an advantage over expected rivals the BAE/Northrop Grumman Hawk T2, Korea Aerospace Industries/Lockheed Martin T-50 and Alenia North America/General Dynamics T-100 (a variant of the M-346).
For Saab, this pact is a genuine coup – let’s remember that its entire aeronautics branch totals only about 4,000 staff. Get it right for T-X, and we could perhaps expect the Swedish air force to come knocking too, as its current 72 Saab 105 jets (company-sourced image below) are going to need replacing about the same time. As covered elsewhere on Flightglobal, it might even help in getting more Saab-produced equipment – such as the Skeldar unmanned helicopter, and surveillance-roled Saab 340 – into the hands of US operators.
What remains to be seen though is whether a Boeing/Saab product – and concepts already exist – can be honed fast enough once the USAF gets around to fully defining its requirements and issuing a request for proposals for T-X: maybe more than two years from now. But for this team perhaps more than any of the other likely bidders, extra time is likely to be a good thing.
We can’t wait for the T-X programme to get going, as it’s going to be an epic fight. The M-346 has so far been sold to Italy, Israel and Singapore, the T-50 to South Korea, Indonesia and – just today – Iraq, while new-generation Hawks are flying with the UK and on order for Oman and Saudi Arabia. Would you buy one of those now, or wait for a Boeing/Saab rival to take form?