After parting ways with Raytheon, Leonardo is flying solo in the US Air Force’s T-X trainer competition but still plans to establish final assembly for the M-346 trainer derivative in the USA..

The Italian company will announce the location of the manufacturing facility soon, DRS chief executive Bill Lynn told FlightGlobal in a 9 March interview. The T-100 will maintain the M-346’s two Honeywell F124 engines, which are manufactured in Arizona, and its CAE simulators will be built in Florida.

DRS will represent the American face of Leonardo, which did not select a separate US partner when it re-entered the competition. Boeing has teamed with the Sweden-based Saab, while Lockheed is partnering with Korea Aerospace Industries.

Lynn declined to offer a short-list of potential final assembly sites under consideration.

Before dropping DRS as a partner, Raytheon had selected Meridian, Mississippi, as a final assembly location. Asked if Meridian remains in the running, Lynn declined to comment.

In 2010, FlightGlobal reported final assembly of the T-100 could be assigned to Elizabeth City, North Carolina. But DRS sold the maintenance, repair and overhaul facility for Lockheed Martin C-130s to the US Coast Guard in 2015.

When asked whether its status as a lone foreign company could affect its chances in a US competition, one that could be colored by nationalists overtones from the Trump administration, Lynnn dismissed the idea.

“This is going to be an American built airplane with American jobs so I don’t think we run into any of these ‘buy America issues,’” he says. “The foreign sourcing of the technology is similar for all three [competitors].”

In a competition that also weeded out Northrop Grumman by enforcing a low bid, Leonardo is touting its cost-saving capabilities.

The company has an established production line in Italy and its bid includes integrated ground based training. While Boeing is putting forth a clean-sheet design, Leonardo has sold the M-346 to Italy, Israel, Singapore and Poland. The Israelis have already trained pilots for fifth-generation aircraft using the M-346, according to a Leonardo spokesman.

Leonardo has made some changes in its programme management office, but its technology and airframe remains the same as its original offering with Raytheon, according to Lynn. While the M-346 traces its lineage to the Russian Yak-130, Lynn argues today’s aircraft has evolved since the Finmeccanica and Yakovlev partnership.

“The M-346 has long since progressed and it’s quite a different design and different program,” he says. “I don’t think there’s much overlap. The airframe has been changed, the cockpit changed, the flight envelope is different.”