In a significant turn of events, the Air Force set 2023 or 2024 as its target for getting for the long-delayed T-X trainer into its fleet, according to the service’s top official.

The target is at least 10 years later than the service’s original goal of late 2013 or early 2014 for the potential $30 billion T-X program, which the Air Force recently postponed due to higher priorities and budget constraints. The T-X trainer is to replace the legacy T-38 trainer jets and related training systems (Defense Daily, June 11).

Northrop Grumman’s T-38 trainer. Photo: Air Force.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said yesterday at an Air Force Association breakfast in Arlington, Va., that the service was still assessing a number of factors with the program, including if it needs two aircraft. Welsh said the Air Force uses the T-1 and T-38 for training and that the T-1 is cheaper than flying the T-38 during the second half of pilot training. The T-1 is developed by Raytheon [RTN] while the T-38 is developed by Northrop Grumman [NOC].

Welsh also said the Air Force was even discussing how long pilot training should be and if it should it fundamentally change compared to its previous approach. But Welsh said despite the importance of getting the new T-X trainers into the fleet, the Air Force simply doesn’t have the money.

“There’s no rapid change right now to the resources available to fund the T-X program,” Welsh said. “To me, the new trainer…is coming. We have to figure out how to fund this thing.”

Boeing [BA] is still interested in T-X. Dennis Muilenburg, president and CEO of Boeing’s defense sector, told Defense Daily yesterday the company would use a clean sheet approach and “new levels of innovation” to “dramatically break the cost curve” and provide a more affordable trainer.

General Dynamics [GD] and Finmeccanica’s Alenia Aermacchi said earlier this year they were teaming for the T-X program, offering a fully-integrated advanced pilot training system built around Alenia’s T-100, a market variant of the company’s M-346 military aircraft trainer.

Northrop Grumman [NOC], BAE Systems and L-3 Communications [LLL] had partnered to offer the Hawk Advanced Jet Training System (AJTS) with BAE acting as prime contractor and L-3 providing the ground based training system. Northrop Grumman would have managed the building and final assembling of the aircraft (Defense Daily, Jan. 18).

Lockheed Martin [LMT] and Korea Aerospace were to offer Lockheed Martin’s T-50.