This article first appeared in Aerospace Daily & Defense Report.
ST. LOUIS -- Boeing is consciously taking a departure from its normal design process in coming up with a concept for the forthcoming U.S. Air Force T-38C replacement competition.
This process could help shape the company's bids for other Pentagon competitions to come -- such as the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Surveillance and Strike (Uclass) and next-generation bomber.
The very fact that the company is planning to compete with a clean-sheet design is viewed by some analysts as bold. Senior Air Force officials have said they want to proceed with a program at the lowest possible cost and risk. The likely candidates are thought to be the existing designs now being pitched by foreign suppliers -- BAE's Hawk-based concept, the Korea Aerospace Industries/Lockheed Martin T-50 and Alenia Aermacchi's M346. These companies all tout their designs as inexpensive because the development costs have already been paid by other customers.
The ability to build something new is an advantage, though, according to Chris Chadwick, president of Boeing Military Aircraft. "We are going to try to disrupt the market with a purpose-built platform that provides the right capability at the right cost at the right time for the customer," he tells Aviation Week.
Chadwick says the company has embraced a "one Boeing" concept that has allowed for improved collaboration among the different business units – including Boeing Commercial Aircraft and the various divisions of the Defense Space and Security sector. This has facilitated an unprecedented amount of best-practice sharing as well as lessons from failed work.
And, an "immersive development," or Imdev, concept is allowing for collaborative design work using virtual tools across the company.
This push, coupled with a variety of options for T-X, gives company officials confidence in their approach.
"When you're starting with a clean piece of paper you're unconstrained; when you're starting with an airplane that's already in flight test or in some stage of production you're dramatically constrained," says Darryl Davis, president of Boeing's Phantom Works advanced development unit. "but [we've] got unlimited degrees of freedom here... We would contend, potentially, that for the same amount of investment and a different approach to balancing what's on the ground with what's in the air, you could make a different trade; whereas if the airplane is already built you can't make that trade."
With its T-X procurement, the Air Force is looking to buy a full, fast-jet training system that will ready pilots for service in the F-22 and F-35. This will include the aircraft as well as a robust, ground-based suite of coursework and simulation-based training.
Davis notes that since Boeing is not bounded by the capabilities of an aircraft that already has been built, the company can tinker with the balance of what learning can be done on the ground and what must be done in high-cost flight hours.
What is unclear is just how much research and development funding Boeing plans to sink into its development before bidding a design to the Air Force. Significant financial pressure at the Pentagon is forcing the service to reduce its R&D spending as much as possible. Boeing may have to underwrite some of its design work, as it is doing with the KC-46A development, to balance out the cost of its design with that of one of the off-the-shelf options flying today.
Company officials declined to outline how far along they are in detailed design work and how much funding they are willing to put into their design for T-X.