Fighter rivals join forces for T-X

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.

Saab 105 DEW Line

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?


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6 Responses to Fighter rivals join forces for T-X

  1. John S. 12 December, 2013 at 4:27 pm #

    Aren’t those MiG-28s in that first image?

  2. K.B. 13 December, 2013 at 11:56 pm #

    I thought the Saab 105 will be replaced with PC-21 as an offset for the Gripen-buy. And if not with Swiss Trainers, there will be still the chance of a Gripen procurement in Brazil – combined with some Super Tucano (or KC-390?) for Sweden.

    Overall Saabs strategy appears to have some sticking points.
    1. If their T-X-design is too powerful, it will be in competition with the Gripen E/F as a light fighter.
    2. Why should they develop a product for a crowded market?
    3. DonĀ“t they need their engineers for the Gripen E/F development? Perhaps the aerodynamic of the Gripen E/F is fix and Saab does primarily need engineers for avionic and system integration. So they would use their staff for the aerodynamics of the T-X (nice training work) while Boeing will be responsible for the electronics.

    To answer the question:
    The USAF should go on with an OTS-design, with as few as possible design and system changes. The T-6 program showed, that even a basic trainer aircraft can exceed calculations dramatically.
    The three existing types are sound designs, so I see no need for experiments.

  3. Guest 14 December, 2013 at 9:27 am #

    Craig – you could also add that this clean-sheet design won’t have a N-I-H label attached to it. Even though there’ll be a foreign partner in its development, it will be designed FOR the USAF, unlike the other contenders.

    John S – the Mig-28 role was played by Topgun F-5E/Fs. The black paint scheme on the T-38s is just a nod to the U-2s and SR-71s flown by the 9th RW (Beale Bandits).

    • El Sid 18 December, 2013 at 6:30 pm #

      Black’s meant to be the best colour for trainers as it’s most visible – all the RAF Hawks are painted black for instance (apart from the Red Arrows!), and don’t have the U-2/SR-71 reference to call on.

  4. MrSatyre 23 December, 2013 at 2:26 pm #

    I thought I had read way back in the day when the Gripen was first revealed that much of its major avionics systems were developed jointly between Saab and one of the big US defence contractors. Was that Boeing or someone else?

    • Craig Hoyle 23 December, 2013 at 6:34 pm #

      Earlier Gripen had a lot of US systems, but the E has been intentionally designed to have as little as was possible, to help with exports. Good strategy, by the looks of it.

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