Lockheed Martin will offer an upgraded version of the T-50 fighter it jointly developed with Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) for the US Air Force's T-X trainer programme, forgoing a clean-sheet alternative designed by its Skunk Works division.
The company revealed at a press conference in Washington DC today that it will build the aircraft in Greenville, South Carolina and is already standing up a “warm” final assembly and checkout facility there that should be ready by year’s end.
The company has invested heavily in a block upgrade of the T-50 that adds an aerial refuelling receptacle on the dorsal of the aircraft, as seen on the first production example unveiled in South Korea in December. It includes an embedded training system and fifth-generation cockpit similar to what’s installed in the F-35 Lightning II.
The aircraft takes advantage of open system architecture standards developed by the air force and industry to speed up the integration of new sensors, weapons and other capabilities.
The T-50A is nearing first flight, and the first two production examples are due to arrive in the USA “later this year” for further testing and demonstration.
“Our clean sheet team thought we had a great airplane but it doesn’t do much more than the T-50,” says company executive Rob Weiss. “It doesn’t add capability beyond a modernised T-50.
“[T-50A] is at a point it could give back money from what’s currently in the air force budget.”
Weiss says Skunk Works has completed 80% of the detailed design work on its clean-sheet alternative and that work has now ceased.
He says the proposed design would have cost eight times more to fully develop than it would to bring the T-50A into production, but the extended schedule was more of a concern.
Major components of the aircraft will be assembled in Korea including the wings, fuselage and tail. Those components would be shipped to the USA for final assembly to produce an American-built aircraft for use by the air force as an advanced jet trainer.
The air force could procure as many as 350 T-X trainers and the associated ground-based training system, replacing hundreds of Northrop T-38C. It would prepare pilots to operate the latest fifth and sixth-generation combat jets.