Lockheed Air Force Training Jet Makes First Flight

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Just four months after announcing that it had scrapped the idea of developing a clean sheet design for a new training jet for the U.S. Air Force, Lockheed Martin Corp. (NYSE: LMT) and its partner, Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), have successfully completed the first test flight of a modified KAI T-50 training jet.

KAI has sold more than 100 of its T-50 training jets to South Korea, Indonesia, Iraq, the Philippines and Thailand, and the proposed version for the United States includes a fifth-generation cockpit and other upgrades. The Air Force plans to use the so-called T-X to replace the decades-old T-38 training fleet with 350 new training jets to train pilots to fly the F-35.

In late March, the Air Force announced that its planned request for bids to build the new training jet would be delayed by three months, pushing the expected release of the request for proposals (RFPs) out to late December 2016.

That delay will end up adding two years to the time it will take the new plane to reach full operational capability. Initial operational capability remains on the schedule for 2024, but full capability has been pushed out from 2032 to 2034. A contract award is expected in 2017 or early 2018.

Raytheon Corp. (NYSE: RTN) and partners Leonardo-Finmeccanica and CAE are also expected to enter the bidding with a modified version of Finmeccanica’s T-100 training jet, while a team of Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) and Saab, and another comprised of Northrop Grumman Corp. (NYSE: NOC), BAE Systems and L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. (NYSE: LLL), are expected to propose clean-sheet designs.

Lockheed claims that the modified T-50 meets all the Air Force requirements for the training jet contract and can deliver those requirements on time with the least risk. The company said that it studied clean-sheet designs, but “determined they pose prohibitive risk to [Advanced Pilot Training] cost and schedule requirements.”

Lockheed should know. Its F-35 program may be the poster child for the risks of clean-sheet designs.

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