Raytheon has officially jumped into the US Air Force's T-X race, offering the Italian Finmeccanica-Alenia Aermacchi M-346-based T-100 with twin Honeywell F124 turbofan engines and training support from CAE.
At an announcement in Washington DC on 22 February, the world's third-largest military contractor confirmed that air force pilots have already trialled the “Master” in Italy to verify that the current design meets stringent, high-g performance criteria associated with T-X.
Once allied with General Dynamics, the T-100 will now compete against the Lockheed Martin/Korea Aerospace Industries T-50A and clean-sheet alternatives proposed by Boeing/Saab and Northrop Grumman/BAS Systems for US Air Education and Training Command’s procurement of 350 high-performance training jets to replace the 48-year-old Northrop T-38 Talon.
Once outfitted with wide-screen avionics displays and a boom refuelling mechanism, company officials expect the T-100 to meet all of the air force’s requirements, but with less cost and schedule risk than the completely new designs pursued by Boeing and Northrop.
Those officials also stressed that a large portion of the aircraft will be made in America, reflective some anxiety about the M-346's Italian origin.
“Our offering will be built, tested and fielded in the United States,” says Roy Azevedo, VP of Raytheon’s airborne systems division.
Azevedo says his team will deliver a complete package that includes the aircraft, ground-based training system and courseware, and it will blend live, virtual and constructive (LVC) elements into a single, high-end training environment.
Raytheon is also confident of meeting and even exceeding the air force’s tentative initial operational capability date of 2024.
“The aircraft is already supporting training today,” says Jim Hvizd, vice-president of business development for Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems. “We absolutely believe we can bring a very low-development programme to bear.”
Unlike the single-engine T-50A proposed by Lockheed, Raytheon is offering a twin-engine aircraft powered by Honeywell’s F124, with each engine enabled by dual-channel, redundant full authority digital engine control (FADEC) for safer flying.
Peter Costello, Honeywell’s senior director of international business development, says the engine is currently built in Taiwan but has also been assembled for Israel’s M-346 training fleet in Phoenix, Arizona. That site will be reactivated should Raytheon win T-X.
“We just delivered the last Israeli engines a few months ago, so we’ll just turn the lights back on,” says Costello.
Honeywell/International Turbine Engine Company (ITEC) F124s and the afterburner derivative, known as the F125, power the M-346, Czech Aero L-159 Alca and Taiwanese F-CK-1 Ching-kuo.
Alenia Aermacchi chief executive Filippo Bagnato says the T-100 is not a prototype and enters the race as a mature alternative to the T-50A and clean-sheet designs, and it is already supporting the training needs of fourth- and fifth-generation fighter jet pilots.
Bagnato says the M-346 strikes the right balance between the needs of pilots preparing to fly the highly manoeuvrable Eurofighter Typhoon and the more sophisticated Lockheed F-35.
There are currently three possible cockpit configurations under consideration including an evolutionary approach from the current design to a completely new avionics display. The T-50A, by comparison, will have a cockpit based on the F-35 Lightning II.
For refuelling, there are three potential options for centreline boom refuelling from the USAF-operated KC-135, KC-10 and future KC-46A.
Bagnato says this would likely be delivered as an adaptor or modification kit since the current set of requirements don’t call for refuelling capabilities as a baseline standard.
Raytheon will announce a location where the aircraft will be built after a "rigorous" study, but well before the request for proposals (RFP) is issued later this year.
“We want to have those decisions made well before we have to make a final proposal so the government has a time-certain, cost-certain and performance-certain solution,” says Hvizd.
The air force has earmarked $1.6 billion for T-X research and development with $932 million allocated between fiscal years 2017-2021. The total programme is worth upwards of $9 billion.
When accounting for the Phoenix-built engine and excluding the proposed large area display, Bagnato says the M-346 already contains approximately 50% American content. “Before beginning to work with Raytheon, the American content of the M346 is not far from 50%,” he says.
CAE says its T-X operations will be run through its American division in Tampa, Florida. CAE group president Gene Colabatistto says the company is now well positioned for T-X, having joining Raytheon.
Colabatistto pointed to Raytheon's experience with the T-1 Jayhawk and USAF Joint Primary Aircraft Training System (JPATS) programme, which resulted in the T-6 Texan II.
“We really couldn’t be happier where we ended up," he says. "I think the platform itself is very, very competitive, as we did several years ago before people started talking about clean-sheet designs.”
The air force will compete its T-X requirement through 2017 before downselecting a single supplier, and a spokesman says both the clean-sheet proposals and those based on existing designs will be fairly assessed.
Source: Flight International