Competition for Air Force Training Jet Now Begins in Earnest

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The U.S. Air Force released its final request for proposal (RFP) on Friday for a fleet of some 350 new training jets, called the T-X for now, to replace the decades old T-38. A winner is expected to be named sometime in 2017.

Five teams are expected to compete for the contract: Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) has joined with Saab to offer a clean-sheet design; Northrop Grumman Corp. (NYSE: NOC) has teamed up with BAE Systems and L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. (NYSE: LLL) on another clean-sheet design; Lockheed Martin Corp. (NYSE: LMT) and Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) are going with a modified KAI T-50; Raytheon Corp. (NYSE: RTN) has joined with Italy’s Leonardo and Canada’s CAE Inc. (NYSE: CAE) on a version of Leonardo’s M-346 trainer that it calls the T-100; and privately held Sierra Nevada has partnered with Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) on another clean-sheet design.

The contract is the last major Air Force program to be let for bidding and is estimated to be worth about $16.3 billion to the winner. The plane is expected to achieve initial operating capability in 2024.

The RFP includes delivery of five test aircraft in the engineering and development stage with 10 annual batches to be delivered beginning with two lots at low-rate initial production followed by eight lots at full-rate production.

A sixth competitor for the contract may also sneak in. Textron Inc.’s (NYSE: TXT) aviation division is reconsidering its initial decision to drop out of the competition for the new training jet. The company said earlier this month that its Beechcraft Defense and Textron AirLand joint venture, the firm responsible for Textron’s Scorpion armed reconnaissance platform, remains engaged with the Air Force T-X program and will closely examine the final list of requirements attached to the RFP before making a decision.