The Air Force's T-X trainer contract is unlikely to be awarded before the end of the year because of ongoing reviews of the program, the service's top acquisition chief said Tuesday.
Despite multiple warnings from officials of the harmful consequences of a continuing resolution, or CR, Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, the Air Force's military deputy for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Acquisition at the Pentagon, did not blame the a stopgap budget measure.
"The [continuing resolution] is not what's impacting that," he told reporters after an Air Force Association breakfast event in Washington, D.C.
"It is the review, the review of the proposals, and ensuring that we have the right items taken care of," Bunch said.
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The Air Force wants to buy 350 aircraft to replace its current Northrop Grumman Corp.-made T-38 Talon trainers at a time when the service needs to replenish its fighter pilot ranks.
The general's comments follow a Defense News report that the award announcement would likely be delayed until spring 2018.
"This is a case -- like I've said before -- sometimes you need to go slow in order to go fast," Bunch said of the acquisition strategy. "Because if we do it [too fast], we end up in a protest, and [if ] we go through that process, it will set us back. It will take us even longer."
He confirmed the Air Force "is saying spring" for awarding the T-X contract.
The delay isn't a complete surprise.
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told reporters at the Air Force Association's annual conference last month that various programs are in jeopardy because of lingering budget uncertainties.
Wilson, who included the T-X into that category, said the lack of a budget has left the service's programs in turmoil.
"There are no anomalies, there's no exceptions, there's no list of things [that say], 'You can start this or start that or go ahead and buy more munitions or continue on with the T-X [program],' " she said.
"There's no negotiation like that. If we don't get a budget ... we won't have any new starts," Wilson said.
The Air Force in December launched a potential $16 billion competition to build a replacement T-38, which entered service in 1961.
Firms publicly competing for the contract include Boeing Co., Lockheed Martin Corp. and Leonardo S.p.A.
Boeing, the Chicago-based aerospace giant, is collaborating with Saab on the program and is the only bidder to offer a brand-new design.
Leonardo, which broke off from a dual venture with Raytheon Co. earlier this year to go solo instead, is building on its T-100 integrated jet.
Lockheed is working with Korea Aerospace Industries Ltd. to design a modified version of its T-50.