If 2015 was the year of the bomber, the US Air Force’s requirement for a next-generation fighter trainer will be one of the hottest games in town in 2016.
With four – maybe five – industry teams poised to pounce on a request for proposals due out in the fourth quarter, the multi-billion dollar opportunity to replace the venerable T-38 Talon will reveal clean-sheet aircraft from Northrop Grumman and Boeing/Saab, and also maybe from Lockheed Martin; despite the company’s ties to the T-50-based Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) bid.
The USAF’s massaging of T-X performance needs has already seen Textron rule out offering its Scorpion, and question marks hang over the Alenia Aermacchi M-346 (offered as T-100) and BAE Systems Hawk.
It’s impossible to predict how the competition will shake out, but the need for 350 advanced trainers to prepare pilots to fly the Lockheed F-22 and F-35 will surely throw up surprises.
Northrop enters the fight buoyed by its Long-Range Strike Bomber win, Lockheed has diplomatic relations with South Korea to worry about, and Boeing is trying desperately to continue its McDonnell Douglas legacy.
These three teams could all fly new demonstrators in 2016, setting up an exciting year in aviation.
Alenia and KAI have their work cut out getting their off-the-shelf T-100 and T-50 proposals across the line, but the T-X prize is perhaps too great to ignore.