Boeing All-In To Win U.S Air Force T-X Contract .....
Teamed with Saab, Boeing bets on affordability in U.S. Air Force’s next-gen trainer competition.
Lara Seligman - Aviation Week & Space Technology - Sep. 16, 2016
As production of Boeing’s venerated F-15 and F/A-18 fighters winds down, the company is struggling to stay in the tactical aircraft business beyond this decade.
So it is taking no chances in the U.S. Air Force’s T-X advanced trainer competition, which may offer St. Louis a lifeline.
Boeing and partner Saab finally lifted the curtain on their T-X offering here on Sept. 13, bringing to a close months of speculation about the clean-sheet aircraft.
Boeing-Saab’s T-X is a purpose-built, production-ready trainer that hews closely to the Air Force’s threshold requirements for the new program.
The sleek, twin-tail design focuses on affordability over performance, drawing on Boeing’s secretive Black Diamond initiative to drive down manufacturing and sustainment costs.
Boeing is the last of the four competing prime contractors to show its hand in the competition.
The 350-aircraft program is a coveted prize for all four of the competing teams, but Boeing arguably has the most to lose.
In a major blow, the company lost the next-generation bomber competition to Northrop Grumman last year; meanwhile, any work on the U.S. Air Force and Navy’s sixth-generation fighter will likely come too late to keep Boeing in the tactical aircraft business.
Absent new orders from the U.S. military or its allies, production of Boeing’s Strike Eagle and Super Hornet will end by 2020.
“St. Louis will never close, but the fighter business that was the heart of the enterprise is in danger,” warns Loren Thompson
, an analyst with the Lexington Institute.
“To be out of that business is a wrenching prospect, and T-X is one way they might be able to keep a toehold.”
, an analyst with the Teal Group, is blunter: “When Super Hornet and F-15 go, St. Louis goes,” he says.
So there is no question the stakes were high last week when Boeing finally unveiled its T-X offering.
In perhaps the biggest surprise of the day, company officials revealed they have two production-ready aircraft on hand - in contrast to Northrop Grumman’s clean-sheet T-X demonstrator, which made its unannounced first flight from rapid-prototyping subsidiary Scaled Composites’ plant in Mojave, California, on Aug. 26.
The first Boeing aircraft, displayed during the rollout event, has already started ground tests and will complete its first flight by year-end, company officials say.
The Boeing-Saab design certainly looks the part of a purpose-built next-generation trainer.
But does it have what it takes to win?
The Sept. 13 rollout ceremony revealed a single-engine T-X design that looks like a hybrid of an F/A-18 Super Hornet and a Saab Gripen.
The aircraft features a shoulder-mounted, shallow-anhedral wing and fuselage-mounted landing gear.
The wing has F/A-18-style leading-edge root extensions, under which appear Gripen-style pitot inlets.
The aircraft can be most obviously distinguished from the competition by its twin vertical tails, which officials say add maneuverability and control.
While most modern fighter jets are twin-tail, the other three T-X proposals feature a single tail.
Boeing’s is powered by an afterburning General Electric F404—the same engine used by Lockheed Martin and Korea Aerospace Industries’ offering, the T-50, and, in nonreheated form, in Northrop’s T-X demonstrator.
Boeing appears to have concluded the competition will come down to affordability, with officials promising to “shatter the cost curve” - a reference to the Air Force’s cost-cutting initiative dubbed “Bending the Cost Curve.”
The Boeing-Saab proposal prioritizes affordability over exceeding performance requirements, says Boeing Phantom Works President Darryl Davis - a decision that comes as a bit of a surprise, as the Air Force in its latest draft request for proposals (RFP) incentivized competitors to submit high-performance bids.
“The No. 1 mission is to meet the threshold requirements of the Air Force advanced pilot training,” says Davis.
“If you are going to control cost you have to drive how you actually meet all those requirements.”
Boeing may have concluded the performance incentives in the RFP were not enough to offset the price of increasing the aircraft’s power and G-capability, Aboulafia hypothesizes.
Meanwhile, Byron Callan
of Capital Alpha Partners questions how much the service will be willing to pay for increased performance at the end of the day, particularly given the bow wave of modernization bills coming due in the 2020s.
“The Air Force has an ‘eyes bigger than its stomach’ problem right now,” he says.
“They may be looking at Porsches, but they are going to end up buying Fords.”
Officials revealed after the rollout that the T-X design goes beyond Boeing’s Black Diamond initiative, with engineers 3-D-printing certain components of the jet to lower manufacturing costs.
In order to bring down life-cycle costs, the aircraft also features large, conveniently positioned access panels so that technicians can more easily perform maintenance.
Experts read Boeing’s emphasis on affordability as an indication the company sees Lockheed’s T-50 as its main competition for T-X.
Like Boeing’s offering, the T-50 can easily meet the Air Force’s performance parameters, but Lockheed may struggle to bring down the cost of the existing airframe.
As to the T-100, a version of Leonardo’s M-346 offered by Raytheon, Honeywell and CAE, its main advantage is the companies’ simulation and training expertise.
However, there is still some question about whether the T-100 can meet the stringent performance requirements.
But while Boeing is seen as a leading contender in the competition, the company’s partnership with Saab may pose a problem, Aboulafia says.
While officials declined to say what parts of the jet were developed by which industry partner, experts believe Saab did much of the design and engineering work.
Ulf Nilsson, president of Saab Aeronautics, says Saab is responsible for the mid- and rear-fuselage sections, according to a recent news report.
Meanwhile, a large Russian cargo aircraft believed to be carrying portions of the new aircraft flew from Sweden to the U.S. in June.
The disconnect between the design and manufacturing of the Boeing-Saab T-X may add risk - something the Air Force is seeking to avoid, Aboulafia speculates.
He contrasted the team’s three-year design effort with Northrop’s, whose Scaled Composites subsidiary quickly built its own T-X demonstrator after the company, in February 2015, abandoned plans to propose an updated version of BAE Systems’ Hawk trainer.
But Callan points out that two of the three other competitors are in the same boat, as Raytheon is relying on Italy’s Leonardo for the T-100 airframe and Lockheed’s T-50A is based on South Korea’s Golden Eagle fighter-trainer.
The Boeing-Saab team is still discussing where the aircraft will ultimately be assembled, but the engineering and manufacturing development phase of the program will be completed at Boeing’s St. Louis factory, Davis says.
The Air Force is planning to release a final RFP to industry in December, with a downselect to a single vendor planned in 2017.
Initial operational capability is expected in 2024.
See more on the Boeing-Saab team’s next-generation T-X trainer ..... "Boeing’s Next-Generation T-X Trainer