On December 30 the US Air Force formally opened the bidding process for the T-X program to replace the T-38 Talon Jet trainer. The service expects to award a contract this year for the new jet and ground-based training system.


Contract, which will initially call for 350 aircraft, along with a number of ground training systems. T-X initial operational capability for USAF, is planned for 2024.The T-X program aims to replace 431 T-38 aircraft and full operational capability expected for 2034.

The world trainer market is valued at about $3 billion per year. 800 Western high-end jet trainers have been delivered worldwide over the past 20 years. The project have big export market that could add 200-300 units on top of the Air Forces buy. Any country that operates an advanced jet trainer such as the German and Turkish Air Forces could be a potential customer for T-X.

Four industry teams have declared plans to compete for the requirement: Raytheon and Leonardo-Finmeccanica, with the T-100 variant of the twin-engine Alenia Aermacchi M346 Master; Lockheed Martin and Korea Aerospace Industries with the T-50A variant of the single-engine T-50 Golden Eagle; Northrop Grumman, with a single-engine clean-sheet design; and Boeing and Saab, also with a single-engine clean-sheet design.

In theory, an off-the-shelf product could be less costly, since you don’t have the development expenses that a clean-sheet design would have. Since it has been in service, it has proven reliability, you know what it’s going to do, whereas with a clean-sheet design, you have to prove that all out in flight testing. On the other hand, one advantage of a clean-sheet design is a company is able to optimize it specifically to the Air Force program.

The new jet trainer will serve as a lead-in trainer for 4th and 5th generation fighters. Today, the T-38 lacks capabilities we absolutely need to prepare pilots for 5th generation aircraft. Pilot training gaps widen and continue to do so every year as the service brings on more 5th generation aircraft.

The new jet trainer has to meet some requirements different from T-38s:

  • Low costs and cost certainty
  • Guided weapon employment
  • Night vision
  • Use of passive and active sensors