Add another competitor to the Air Force’s T-X trainer competition: Raytheon [RTN], Finmeccanica Alenia Aermacchi, CAE, and Honeywell [HON] are partnering to offer a modified version of the Aermacchi M-346, which they will call the T-100.

Raytheon partnered with Finmeccanica, CAE and Honeywell to offer the T-100 for the T-X competition. Photo: Valerie Insinna
Raytheon partnered with Finmeccanica, CAE and Honeywell to offer the T-100 for the T-X competition. Photo: Valerie Insinna

The T-100 will combine the M-346 with a ground combat station tailored to the Air Force’s requirements, Raytheon executives said during a Monday press conference announcing the companies’ T-X offering.

Roy Azevedo, vice president of Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems, described the M-346 modifications as “minor changes” to the plane’s displays and aerial refueling receptacle. The companies are still finalizing their design and workshare, but Honeywell will provide twin, F124 turbofan engines.

Choosing an existing aircraft will let Raytheon to bypass some of the development problems that typically befall clean-sheet designs, thus helping the team minimize risk and drive down cost, said Jim Hvizd, Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems’ vice president of international business development.

“A clean sheet design, like any airplane, has to be test flown, has to be certified, has to go through all the rigors of actually going through all the various maneuvers,” he said. “You look at the history of aviation, I don’t know that there is an airplane that’s been built that hasn’t had some kind of mishap. So why take the risk with that? We’ve had absolutely no mishaps with the 346, it’s an outstanding aircraft.”

Raytheon hopes to have about 80 percent of the production and assembly work conducted in the United States, but it has not finalized where components will be produced, he said. “We’re looking at the best economical options first and foremost, also where we can maximize jobs.”

About half of the work on current M-346s is already done in the United States, and additional capabilities will be sourced from Honeywell’s facility in Arizona and CAE’s Tampa location. Within the next few months, Raytheon plans to announce reach a decision on whether to build a new factory or use an existing one to support production, he said.

Pilots from four countries have clocked in more than 10,000 hours in the M-346:  Italy, Singapore, Poland and Israel. 

Raytheon isn’t the only T-X competitor offering an existing aircraft. This month, Lockheed Martin [LMT] and Korea Aerospace Industries announced that their proposal of an upgraded T-50 for the T-X program would could potentially allow the Air Force to accelerate their initial operational capability milestone, currently planned for 2024, by a couple of years (Defense Daily, Feb. 2).

Raytheon will likely also be able to meet an earlier IOC date, Hvizd said, although he declined to speculate on how quickly its team would be able to finish development.

Lockheed Martin plans to leverage technologies from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, particularly its cockpit, for its T-50A offering. That won’t necessarily give it an advantage, Hvizd said. The biggest difference between a fourth and fifth generation aircraft trainer is the Air Force’s requirement for a large area display, which integrates multiple displays into a single touch screen.

 “Lockheed does not have the only people that know how to do that. We’ve done that in many of our systems, in ground vehicles and airborne vehicles,” he said. “So we’re looking right now at our industry partners and deciding what the best LAD solution is. We’ve already been testing some in our labs, and we’ll make that decision and integrate that into the airframe.”

The M-346 training system currently is not equipped with that capability, but Raytheon and Finmeccanica had both been independently developing it, he said.

Raytheon and its partners are joining an increasingly crowded field. Besides Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, three other teams have announced their proposed T-X bids. Northrop Grumman [NOC], the manufacturer of the legacy T-38 trainer currently in use, is partnering with BAE Systems and L-3 Communications [LLL] to put forward a clean-sheet design. Boeing [BA] and Saab also have collaborated on a new aircraft. Textron AirLand [TXT] plans to offer its Scorpion jet.

Finmeccanica had originally partnered with General Dynamics [GD], but that company dropped out as  prime contractor in 2015. Hvizd noted that Raytheon is “not picking up whatever was previously done with General Dynamics” did and will develop its training solution from the ground up.

The Air Force is expected to issue a request for proposals this fall.