T-38 Talon

The US Air Force (USAF) has issued requirements for the T-X trainer aircraft programme that is scheduled to replace the service’s ageing T-38 Talon aircraft fleet.

The release represents the first under USAF’s new ‘Bending the Cost Curve’ initiative. It follows air force secretary Deborah Lee James’ emphasis on increased dialogue with industry to build affordability into the acquisition process.

Air education and training command (AETC) plans, programmes, and requirements director brigadier-general Dawn Dunlop said: "The T-X requirements are being released approximately ten months earlier than under the normal acquisition process and is part of an ongoing effort for more deliberate and open engagement with industry."

"The initial draft requirements are claimed to have enabled the industry to make more informed and early design decisions."

Released in 2012, the initial draft requirements are claimed to have enabled the industry to make more informed and early design decisions.

The T-38 is built by Northrop Grumman. It is currently unable to prepare USAF pilots for newer, more advanced aircraft, due to outdated cockpit and simulated sensor capability, as well as sustainment issues.

According to USAF, the T-38 is unable to complete 12 of 18 advanced pilot training tasks, prompting the air force to rely on fighter and bomber formal training units to complete the training at a much greater cost.

In addition, the T-38s assigned to AETC have failed to meet the command’s requirement for 75% availability since 2011.

The USAF seeks three key performance characteristics for the advanced pilot training mission, including sustained G, simulator visual acuity and performance, and aircraft sustainment, with focus on embedded training with synthetic sensors and data link.

The USAF requires the T-X system to serve in a ‘red air’ or adversary role, during live-fly exercises, and has already set aside $40m across the Future Year Defense Plan in Stores-Aircraft Interface funds in 2016 budget as a wedge to provide future planning or development options related to T-X.

AETC commander-general Robin Rand said: "The money for the Stores-Aircraft Interface project should be considered separately from the Advanced Replacement T-X programme.

"A T-X variant is just one option for red air if we decide there’s a requirement for it."

A contract for 350 T-Xs to replace the 431 AETC T-38s is scheduled to be awarded in the fall of 2017, while initial operational capability will be declared by the end of 2023.

Image: A USAF T-38 Talon aircraft flying over the Texas, US. Photo: courtesy of SSGT Jeffrey Allen, USAF.