The US Air Force has confirmed its latest budget proposal delays fielding a replacement for the Northrop T-38 Talon advanced jet trainer by three years. The Fiscal 2013 budget proposal unveiled on 13 February postpones the initial operational capability for the T-X programme from FY2017 to FY2020, according to the Air Education and Training Command (AETC).

Contract award is also delayed one year to FY2016, the AETC said.

The command remains committed to replacing the T-38s, which entered service 51 years ago.

"They're reaching the end of their lifecyle," the AETC said.

The T-38Cs are also unable to perform certain functions that are necessary to completely train pilots for the Lockheed Martin F-22 and F-35s, such as in-flight refueling and aerial manoeuvres beyond 5gs.

The USAF currently uses Lockheed F-16s to complete the gap in training for pilots moving from the T-38 to the F-22. The demand is expected to increase sharply as the F-35 enters the USAF fleet in numbers by the end of the decade.

At least five airframers are already preparing to compete for the project.

BAE Systems has teamed up with Northrop Technical Services to offer the Hawk trainer. Lockheed plans to offer the T-50 Golden Eagle, which is manufactured by Korea Aerospace Industries. Alenia Aeronautica is offering the T-100, a US-built version of the M346 Master.

Meanwhile, Boeing has revealed a concept for a purpose-built trainer, featuring a V-tail and a single engine. Northrop's aerospace division also may be considering a separate bid.

While the USAF still operates more than 500 T-38s, the T-X programme has called for acquiring between 300-350 new jets.

Source: Flight International