THE US DEPARTMENT of Defense (DoD) will release the formal request for proposals (RFPs) for its Joint Affordable Strike Technology (JAST) project at the end of February, kicking off a competition to produce an estimated 5,000 fighter aircraft.

Three responses to the RFP are expected, from Lockheed-Martin, Boeing and McDonnell Douglas (MDC) (teamed with Northrop Grumman and British Aerospace). The DoD will shortlist two teams in the third quarter of 1996.

Dain Hancock, president of Lockheed Martin Tactical Aircraft Systems, says: "The Joint Fighter Programme will set the stage for the next 50 years for the world fighter market."

The JAST is intended to provide a replacement for the US Marines Corps MDC AV-8B, Lockheed Martin F-16 and, perhaps, the MDC F-18, says Hancock. The programme cost is estimated at some $10 billion.

The two winning teams will build demonstrator aircraft of their designs, including an advanced short take-off and landing variant. These aircraft should be flown by 1999-2000. The engineering, manufacturing and developing phase, awarded to the winning team, would begin in 2001, with an initial operating capability by 2007-8.

Hancock does not discount the possibility that, following the pruning of the list from three to two proposals, the team compositions might change.

Lockheed Martin and Boeing have previously discussed teaming for JAST. The talks came to nought because each company wished to lead the bid. Should one firm be eliminated, talks can be expected to start with the other.

Lockheed Martin has reconfigured its JAST proposal, which now resembles a scaled-down F-22. Originally designed with canards, Hancock says that these proved too be "too inflexible a configuration". The canard JAST configuration also made it "...much harder to get aboard a carrier".

Hancock sees Lockheed Martin's JAST design as the natural successor to the F-16, and believes that the company can bridge any gap between the two programmes.

"There are 400 F-16s in firm backlog up to the year 2000, and a potential market beyond this to 2005, so the gap is only two, three or four years," he says.

While developing the JAST, Hancock says that the " strategy is to continue to improve the F-16". He admits, however, that the big-wing F-16U is now "on the shelf".

Source: Flight International