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T-38 replacement contract could dramatically expand

The US Air Force is studying expanding the T-X aircraft requirement beyond replacing the Northrop T-38 to encompass all fixed-wing training aircraft.

Gen Stephen Lorenz, chief of the Air Education Training Command (AETC), confirms the accelerated T-X competition may also replace lead-in trainers for the USAF's airlift crews, not just fighter and bomber pilots.

USAF pilots in advanced training currently fly T-38s as the lead-in aircraft for fighter and bomber types and T-44As or C-12s for airlift aircraft. All fixed-wing pilots also start training by flying the T-6A turboprop.

That training strategy is a relatively modern innovation. Lorenz describes how his class of new pilots in the early 1970s were all "single-tracked" to fly T-37s first, followed by T-38s.

© Steve White/US Air Force
The USAF has more than 500 T-38 trainers

The new study in advance of setting the requirements for the T-X competition will examine returning to the previous model, he says.

The potential shift will likely dramatically expand the potential numbers of aircraft in the T-X portfolio, which already includes replacing more than 500 T-38Cs currently in service.

Several companies are already lining up to participate in the T-X battle.

The Korea Aerospace Industries/Lockheed Martin T-50 has been proposed as a candidate. Alenia North America also plans to offer the Alenia Aermacchi M-346, perhaps as the prime contractor. Meanwhile, Boeing has a relationship with Alenia to market the M-346 in some international markets and has previously teamed with BAE Systems to build T-45 Goshawks for the US Navy.

The T-X acquisition process is starting to gather momentum. The AETC has just submitted the programme for review by the joint requirements oversight council, the first step in the lengthy process of gaining approval to launch a competition for a multi-billion dollar contract.

The AETC is focused on setting requirements to buy the most efficient trainer for the USAF's requirements. Asked if multirole capabilities might be added to the list of requirements, Lorenz was dismissive. "I'm looking for a trainer," he says. "Anything other than that would be gravy."

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