This morning, Air Force Secretary Michael Donely listed off a number of mission areas and programs that he will try to protect from budget "reductions that would cause irreparable harm. The service's effort to field a new trainer jet to replace the 50-year-old T-38 wasn't one of them.
A little while later, Gen. Edward Rice, commander of Air Education and Training Command, told reporters that the service has finished its analysis of alternatives for the T-38 replacement program, known as T-X, but that we shouldn't hold our breath for an RfP:
Until we get a little bit further down the road in the acquisition process I'm not in a position to say when we'll be announcing an actual competition for the aircraft. In the big scheme of things it's not going to be multiple, multiple years down the track but we're not going to announce anything in the next couple of day either.That's partially because T-X is going to have to compete with the list of acquisition priorities the Secretary listed off this morning:
It's not a matter of if, in my mind, it's a matter of when with the other priorities that we have for acquisition that we heard the Secretary talk about some of those this morning with the KC-46, the next generation bomber, regenerating our satellites and JSF, obviously, it's a matter of fit the next generation trainer into that lineup in a way that makes the most sense for the Air Force and we're not ready to decide that today.Rice went on to say with some investment he can keep his T-38s flying to their limits for the "foreseeable future":
We're confident we can continue to fly it safely, again into the foreseeable future. But the challenge is, it's going to cost us more. It's not about, 'can the aircraft continue to fly safely?' We've answered that question . . . We're flying it to its limits today and have no artificial constraints on that.This basically hammers home the point that the service's effort to field its replacement can wait.
Replaceing the T-38s may not be a matter of safety but the service wants a new crop of trainers to move beyond the T-38/F-16 training pipe that is currently used to prepare pilots to fly fifth generation fighters like the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
That image above is a Boeing concept for T-X (check out the new Phantom Works logo on the wing). Don't get too excited over the pic. A spokesman for the Chicago-based defense giant told me that the company isn't committing to any particular design until the Air Force begins to discuss requirements. Meanwhile, BAE Systems announced this morning that it's teaming with Northrop Grumman to offer the Hawk trainer for the contest that may-or-may not materialize.