Lockheed Martin submits final bid for trainer jet contract

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The Lockheed Martin/KAI T-50A is outfitted with an aerial refueling receptacle on its dorsal and a ground-based training system for pilots. Photo provided by Lockheed Martin.

Lockheed Martin has entered the final stage of bidding for a U.S. Air Force contract that could possibly create up to 250 jobs in Greenville.

The Maryland-based aerospace and defense company submitted its final proposal for the Air Force’s Advanced Pilot Training (T-X) Program earlier this month, according to a news release.

The T-X Program aims to replace the Air Force’s aging fleet of Northrop T-38 Talon trainer jets with 350 new trainer jets for undergraduate pilot training. 

Instead of submitting a clean-sheet design, Lockheed has partnered with Korean Aerospace Industries to develop a modified version of the T-50 Golden Eagle, a supersonic advanced trainer jet that was developed by the two companies in the 1990s.

The upgraded aircraft, known as the T-50A, features an aerial refueling receptacle on its dorsal and a ground-based training system for pilots. It also features a fifth-generation cockpit and open-system architecture, which allows for a faster integration of new sensors, weapons, and other capabilities, according to Lockheed officials.

It remains unknown when the Air Force will decide on a bidder, but if awarded the $16 billion contract, Lockheed will produce four aircraft a month at its facility in southern Greenville County, creating 200 to 250 jobs, according to Don Erickson, general manager and site director of Lockheed’s Greenville operations.

Those employees would stem from Lockheed’s current employee pool or the aviation-training program at Greenville Technical College, according to Erickson.

Lockheed, however, isn’t the only company competing for the contract.

Boeing, for instance, has partnered with the Swedish aerospace firm Saab to develop a twin-seat, single-engine trainer jet. The aircraft features a glass cockpit modeled to resemble that of the Lockheed F-35 Lightning II, and an open-systems architecture that offers flexibility to evolve as technology, missions, and training needs change.

The production capabilities include solutions for radar and sensors, signature management, training and simulation, and support services as well as for high-resolution 3D mapping, air traffic management, and homeland security.

Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with Teal Group, an aerospace consultancy in Fairfax, Virginia, said Lockheed has a 55 percent chance of winning the contract since the T-50A doesn’t involve a lot of upfront development costs that add to the price.

“This entire competition comes down to the costs,” he told the Upstate Business Journal earlier this year. “Boeing has a good aircraft, but Lockheed has the upper hand because there’s less risk involved with their design. It’s been demonstrated.”

Lockheed’s Greenville Operations facility, which is located at the South Carolina Technology and Aviation Center, has conducted more than 90 test flights of the T-50A since two of the aircraft arrived from South Korea last year, according to spokesperson Leslie Farmer. 

For more information, visit www.lockheedmartin.com.

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