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Leonardo fears US domestic politics will scupper T-X bid

As the battle for the US Air Force’s T-X trainer programme heats up, Italy’s Leonardo fears that its T-100 will be overlooked due to political considerations.

The T-100 – a variant of the Aermacchi M-346 – faces opposition from a combined Boeing/Saab team, which is offering a clean-sheet design, and the Lockheed Martin/Korea Aerospace Industries T-50.

Although the T-100 is being offered through Leonardo’s US subsidiary DRS following the withdrawal of former partner Raytheon from the contest in late January, the company remains the only participant in the competition without a big US airframer as a partner.

Mauro Moretti, Leonardo’s chief executive, speaking on a full-year results call, noted that as the T-X competition was the last of the air force’s big ticket acquisitions, this provided an extra competitive edge.

“It is quite reasonable to assume that whoever didn’t have a result before wants to have a result today,” he says.

However, he is concerned that political considerations will favour domestic suppliers, despite Italy’s considerable defence purchases from the USA, notably the Lockheed F-35.

“If you consider the balance of what Italy is buying in defence in the USA against what we can sell in the same market we know it is absolutely not comparable,” he says.

“I don’t know a similar situation in defence and security between two countries. I hope and think that politically it will be considered to give the best system on the market at the moment the possibility that it needs.”

Moretti defends the T-100, noting that it is the “most mature… the most developed with the most performance you can find on the market at the moment”.

He stresses that the maturity of the platform and broader training system should be an important consideration given the USAF’s need to quickly replace its fleet of aged Northrop T-38 Talons; the service’s current inventory is “quite weak” and “in a disastrous situation”, he says.

Leonardo will submit its bid by the end of March, he says, which will include the location of a US final assembly line.

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