In a surprise move, Italian aircraft manufacturer Leonardo on Wednesday announced it is re-entering the US Air Force T-X competition with its T-100 design. Earlier, Leonardo dropped out together with US partner company Raytheon after being ‘unable to reach a business agreement that is in the best interest of the US Air Force’. Now, the Italians put forward their US company, Leonardo DRS, as the prime contractor.
According to Leonardo, the T-100 will be a US-based program that brings the US economic benefits through a newly established and skilled US work force, in addition to technological and industrial capabilities embedded in newly built US-based manufacturing facilities.
“Leonardo’s commitment to pursue the T-X builds on our deep experience in military pilots’ training and on the competitiveness of our T-100 integrated Training Systems that can meet the US Air Force’s current and future needs” said Leonardo CEO Mauro Moretti.
The Italians emphasize the T-100’s use of two US-produced Honeywell F124 turbofan engines in an attempt to show that US companies will benefit if the T-100 takes the prize. The T-X program also sees Lockheed Martin and Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) in competion with their T-50, plus Boeing and Saab with a newly designed jet. Both use General Electic;s F-404 turbofan.
The T-100 is based on the M-346 Master jet trainer that is used by four countries to prepare pilots in next-generation fighter aircraft. Leonardo never forget to point out that the M-346 was selected by the Israeli Air Force as their next training option. The T-100 will feature the same embedded tactical training system used by the M-346. It puts student pilots in realistic but simulated mission scenarios.
Featured image: The Leonardo T-100 will be based on the M-346 Master jet trainer, seen here. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Lockheed Martin recently completed repairs on the first F-22 Raptor at the company’s Inlet Coating Repair (ICR) Speedline facility. The repair is crucial in maintaining the Raptor’s stealthy characteristics.
Periodic maintenance is required to maintain the special exterior coatings that contribute to the F-22’s Very Low Observable (VLO) radar cross-section. The increase in F-22 deployments, including ongoing operational combat missions, has increased the demand for ICR, Lockheed Martin states in a press release.
The US Air Force contracted the company to establish the Speedline in Marietta, Georgia, in August 2016. The first F-22 arrived there in early November. A second aircraft followed in early December and a third in late January.
Lockheed Martin is on contract to perform this work on a total of 12 aircraft and a follow-on contract is anticipated. Additionally, Lockheed Martin is providing modification support services, analytical condition inspections, radar cross section turntable support and antenna calibration.
Featured image: An F-22 in Marietta. (Image © Lockheed Martin / Andrew McMurtrie)
The US Air Force on Friday awarded Boeing a 2.1 billion USD contract for 15 KC-46A Pegasus tanker aircraft, spare engines and wing air refueling pod kits. This order is the third low-rate initial production lot for Boeing. The first two came in August 2016 and combined 19 included airplanes, as well as spare parts.
Boeing plans to build 179 of the 767-based refueling aircraft for the air force to replace its KC-135 tanker fleet. Deliveries will begin later this year.
“This award is great news for the joint Boeing-Air Force team and reinforces the need for this highly efficient and capable tanker aircraft,” said Mike Gibbons, Boeing KC-46A tanker vice president and program manager. “Our Boeing industry team is hard at work building and testing KC-46 aircraft, and we look forward to first delivery.”
Boeing received an initial contract in 2011 to design and develop the Air Force’s next-generation tanker aircraft. As part of that contract, Boeing built four test aircraft – two configured as 767-2Cs and two as KC-46A tankers. Those test aircraft, along with the first production plane, have completed nearly 1,500 flight hours to date.
US Secretary of Defense Mattis has ordered a complete review of both the F-35 program and the program to replace the current Boeing VC-25 aircraft in their role as Air Force One. The review of the F-35 is to include a comparison with the F-18 Super Hornet.
The announcement should come as no surprise, given president Trumps recent criticism of both programs. Even before his inauguration on 20 January, Trump said F-35 costs are out of control while at the same time he asked Boeing to come up with the F-18 Super Hornet as a reasonably priced alternative.
For the F-35, a recent DOT&E report by the Pentagon’s own watchdog is an excellent starting point. That report mentions plenty of delays in F-35 development and testing.
It remains uncertain what the outcome of both reviews could be. Chances of the program being cancelled are close to zero given the program’s strategic and economic importance. However, the naval F-35C version may be under threat. The DOT&E mentions persistent problems in this version specifically.
In a response, Lockheed Martin said it ‘stands ready’ to support the review. Earlier, both Lockheed Martin and Boeing promised to keep costs down. This fresh review will put even more pressure on both manufacturers to actually make up on that promise.
Raytheon and Leonardo on Wednesday 25 January announced they will not jointly compete in the US Air Force Advanced Pilot Training program, known as the T-X program. Their joint entry, the T-100 Integrated Air Training System, will therefore not enter in a competition to replace hundreds of US Air Force T-38 Talons.
“In February 2016, Raytheon and Leonardo announced their intent to team on the T-X pursuit. While we remain confident that the T-100 is a strong solution, our companies were unable to reach a business agreement that is in the best interest of the US Air Force,” said a statement released by Raytheon. “Consequently, Raytheon and Leonardo will not jointly pursue the T-X competition.”
Leonardo states it is ‘evaluating how to leverage on the strong capabilities and potential of the T-100, in the best interest of the US Air Force’. The Italian manufacturer and Raytheon formally announced their intention to compete in the T-X program in February 2016, after Leonardo earlier tried to partner up with General Dynamics.
Their T-100 design was to be developed jointly and to be built in Meridian, Mississippi. The new type was to be based on the existing and highly capable Leonardo M-346 Master trainer aircraft. The chances of Leonardo entering the T-X competition with the M-346 or T-100 on its own, seem remote given US president Trumps’s desire for ‘buy American, hire American’.
Still in competition in the T-X program are Lockheed Martin and Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) with the T-50, Boeing and Saab with a newly designed jet, plus Northrop Grumman with another new design. A decision on the winner is to be announced some time in the next few years.