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Training & Simulation Forum

FEATURE: BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman team for T-X

19 Sep 11

BAE Systems (www.baesystems.com) and Northrop Grumman Corporation (www.northropgrumman.com) today announced an exclusive strategic partnership to compete for the US Air Force’s T-X jet trainer programme.

BAE Systems will prime the Hawk Advanced Jet Training System (AJTS) bid for the USAF contract and Northrop Grumman will act as the manufacturing partner in the United States. The team plans to offer a Hawk uniquely tailored to meet the requirements of the USAF, manufactured in the United States and with the involvement of “a strong US supply chain,” according to an announcement made today in National Harbor, Maryland.

In an interview earlier today with Training and Simulation Forum Bob Wood, Lead for the US Hawk AJTS Program, said there will be “very significant US content in both the aircraft and the training system,” and confirmed the scope of a significant US supply chain. The two companies are currently evaluating the extent and capacity of the facilities Northrop Grumman has in the US across the entire corporation and will ensure “anything else that is required” is available at the appropriate time, he added.

Both companies will apply “expertise and lessons learned from decades of aircrew training and aerospace manufacturing to this project, enabling the US Air Force to succeed in every possible way in their critical missions,” said Thomas E. Vice, President of Northrop Grumman Technical Services.

The team’s bid for T-X will be low risk and affordable, according to Wood. “From a risk perspective, we have a strong heritage with aircraft and the ‘family of systems’ approach within BAE Systems. Add Northrop Grumman’s considerable heritage with the T-38 and we have a combined 85 years of jet training experience between us and have built over 2,500 jet training aircraft,” he said. As to affordability, “we have a very strong focus on that aspect,” he said.

The AJTS is more than just an aircraft. The system effectively integrates live and synthetic training elements – air- and ground-based – to provide holistic training for pilots of 5th generation combat aircraft, such as the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II. Student pilots will learn far more than how to fly the aircraft. Modern combat airframes have been compared to “offices in the sky” to the extent that the fundamental capability of the human in the loop is to process a critical flow of information, interpret it correctly and make instant, often complex, decisions to maintain operational advantage.

The AJTS offers three critical elements to support low-cost, low-risk 5th generation fighter training: a flexible, adaptable Enterprise Learning Architecture; a Ground Based Training System delivering appropriate skills via a blended live/virtual learning environment; and a proven aircraft that delivers cost-effective emulation of front-line platforms without the need for new maintenance skills.

“We do this today for customer such as the Royal Air Force,” said Wood, adding that the capacity for emulating sensors and systems such as combat radar on board the Hawk aircraft is likely to be a key factor in the Air Force’s decision-making process.

More than 900 Hawk aircraft have been delivered or are on order for 18 customers worldwide and the fleet has clocked up over 3,000,000 flight hours, according to Wood. The aircraft is also the future lead-in fighter trainer for the F-35 Lightning II for the US Navy and US Marine Corps as well as the armed forces of the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.

The T-X programme is aimed at fielding a replacement for the existing T-38 Talon trainer aircraft – for which Northrop Grumman was the original manufacturer, building in excess of 1,200 airframes – with initial operating capability sought for the fourth quarter of 2017. Given this timeframe, and the fact that the T-38 was designed for a life of about 7,000 hours and the average on the fleet is currently some 15,000 hours, there is more than enough reason for a quick decision. “There is [already] money in the budget for R&D….and the customer is currently working through elements of the acquisition program,” said Wood.

According to Wood, the team is anticipating that a Request for Proposals will be issued next year. A final selection might take a further two years, which means the competition may well be dominated, to an extent, as much by manufacturing capability and credibility as by technical compliance with the requirements specification.

The USAF has made a point of stating publicly that it requires an integrated training system, not just an aircraft, and has also stated that the timescales of the programme require a system that is ready for almost instant implementation. The possibility that there is scope for a developmental aircraft, therefore, would appear to be remote if the Air Force is to get the training system it requires and will specify, though this has not prevented Boeing lobbying for just such an option to be considered. It would appear, however, that both the constrained timeframe and the budget issues that are playing very heavily in Washington right now make such an option an outside chance at best.

The publicly stated requirement for the aircraft component of the programme is around 350. With add-on requirements from other government agencies requiring airframe commonality or seeking to take advantage off the economies of scale in a major manufacturing programme, this number could rise to 500 aircraft or more over time.

As well as the Hawk AJTS, other aircraft likely to be considered are the Alenia M-346 Master, which will be re-branded T-100 for the T-X competition, and the Korea Aerospace/Lockheed Martin T-50 Golden Eagle, which already has a training system associated with it as developed for the Korean Air Force.

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