Boeing-Saab team wins $9B contract for next Air Force training jet

Boeing-Saab team wins $9B contract for next Air Force training jet
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The Air Force on Thursday named a Boeing-Saab partnership as the winner of a $9.2 billion contract to produce the T-X, the service’s next-generation training jet.

As part of the T-X trainer program, Boeing and the Swedish company will build at least 351 training jets for the Air Force at Boeing’s facilities in St. Louis, Mo.

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“This new aircraft will provide the advanced training capabilities we need to increase the lethality and effectiveness of future Air Force pilots," Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said in a statement after the contract was announced. “Through competition we will save at least $10 billion on the T-X program.”

The Air Force noted in the statement that the T-X program — meant to replace its 57-year-old fleet of Northrop Grumman-made T-38C Talons — was originally estimated to cost $19.7 billion for 351 aircraft.

The statement does not say where the $19.7 billion estimate came from, as the T-X request for proposals originally estimated the program would cost $16 billion over the life of the program.

Leanne Caret, president and CEO of Boeing’s defense business, said the win “is the culmination of years of unwavering focus by the Boeing and Saab team,” and “is a direct result of our joint investment in developing a system centered on the unique requirements of the U.S. Air Force.”

The current plan is to have Boeing build 351 T-X aircraft and 46 simulators, but the contract type will allow the Air Force to purchase up to 475 aircraft and 120 simulators, according to its statement.

“The contract is designed to offer taxpayers the best value both today and in the future should requirements change,” it notes.

Boeing and Saab beat out five groups, including front-runners Leonardo DRS and a Lockheed Martin-Korea Aerospace Industries team.

There were also two dark-horse candidates: a Sierra Nevada Corp. and Turkish Aerospace Industries partnership and Stavatti Aerospace Ltd.

Northrop Grumman withdrew from the competition early last year.

The Air Force awarded Boeing an initial $813 million to delivering five T-X aircraft and seven simulators, the first of which are scheduled to arrive at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph in 2023.

“All undergraduate pilot training bases will eventually transition from the T-38 to the T-X. Those bases include: Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi; Laughlin AFB, Texas; Sheppard AFB, Texas; and Vance AFB, Oklahoma," the Air Force statement adds.

Those first T-X are expected to be up and running by 2024, with the whole fleet ready by 2034.  

Boeing also builds its F-15 and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet at the St. Louis facility, but those lines are expected to close in the next ten years.