Boeing And Saab Join Up for T-38 Replacement

Unlike the competition, (shown) it appears that Saab/Boeing appears to be going with a clean sheet design:

Boeing and Saab have signed an agreement to jointly develop and build an all-new aircraft for the U.S. Air Force’s T-X trainer competition, aimed at a replacement for the service’s 540-plus T-38 trainers. Boeing will be the prime contractor, but both companies will invest in the new aircraft, which will compete with three candidates based on non-U.S. off-the-shelf aircraft: the BAE Systems Hawk, offered by partner Northrop Grumman; the Alenia M-346, with General Dynamics as the prime; and the Korean Aerospace Industries T-50, proposed by development partner Lockheed Martin.

Although Boeing and Saab are giving no details of the design—which in any case is described as flexible, depending on an Air Force requirement that has yet to firm up—it will not be based on Saab’s Gripen, beyond incorporating “some Gripen DNA,” an industry source says. This shows that the two companies expect to offer a smaller and cheaper aircraft than the Gripen-sized T-50.

On the other hand, Saab’s expertise is in high-performance aircraft, pointing toward a fast and agile trainer that can produce pilots ready to handle complex fighters with no two-seat versions, like the F-22, F-35 and (so far) the JAS 39E.

Discussions between Saab and Boeing were reported in September but have been underway for “much longer,” a Saab source says. Saab’s demonstrated capability in designing aircraft for flexible, affordable production is the key to the agreement, says an industry source. At the Paris air show in June, Saab President/CEO Hakan Bushke said the company had reduced production costs on the Gripen C/D even while slowing annual production to 8-12 units from 28, and that the larger JAS 39E would be cheaper still. “Bushke has made no secret of the fact that Saab is highly profitable at such rates,” says a Saab official.

The fact that the expertise that the Swedes bring to the table is the ability to deliver on time and on budget is yet another case of the the almost 400 year fallout from the sinking of the Vasa.

While Saab is adamant that the trainer will not be a Gripen E derivative, I’ve always thought that if you took the base Gripen, pulled the afterburner off of the F-404 (Volvo RM-12), and pulled out the radar, and removed some hard-points, they could have a decent trainer, though the direct operating cost would almost certainly be more than the that of the Hawk, which has about ½ the installed thrust of the Gripen.

Looking the competitors, with installed thrust varying by almost a factor 3, one can not help but think that the requirements of the program are not clear to the bidders.

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