After months of development and testing, Lockheed Martin has submitted its aircraft design for the United States Air Force’s Advanced Pilot Training competition – a bid that could possibly create 200 jobs for Greenville.
“The T-50A uniquely balances maturity with fifth-generation adaptability, which will deliver ahead of schedule and on-cost. Simply put, we are ready now,” said Orlando Carvalho, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics.
The Air Force announced last year that it wants 350 new jets to replace its Northrop T-38 Talon jet trainers, which, according to Northrop Grumman, were produced from 1961 to 1972. The Air Force uses the T-38 aircraft for undergraduate pilot training.
The Pentagon issued a request for proposals in December and set the submission deadline for March 30. Lockheed Martin submitted its proposed aircraft design for consideration last month, according to Carvalho.
Instead of a clean-sheet design, Lockheed Martin has decided to offer a modified version of the T-50 Golden Eagle — a supersonic advanced trainer jet that was developed by Lockheed Martin and Korean Aerospace Industries in the 1990s.
The T-50 has more than 142,000 flight hours and has trained more than 2,000 fighter pilots. But Lockheed Martin decided to upgrade the aircraft and partnered once again with Korean Aerospace Industries to produce the T-50A.
The upgraded aircraft design features an aerial refueling receptacle on its dorsal and a ground-based training system for pilots. It also features a fifth-generation cockpit similar to what’s installed in the F-35 Lightning II and open system architecture, which allows for faster integration of new sensors, weapons and other capabilities.
On Monday, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) visited Lockheed Martin’s Greenville Operation Center at the South Carolina Technology and Aviation Center to praise the aircraft’s capabilities.
“I want to rebuild the military, I want to spend more on the military, but I also want to get value for our money. This investment, to me, is about as sound as the Air Force can make,” said Graham, a retired Air Force Reserve colonel and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“President Trump, this is a damn good deal. Buy these planes,” Graham said.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) April 10, 2017
Lockheed Martin started flight testing one of the trainer jets from its Greenville facility in southern Greenville County on Nov. 19. The company then started testing a second aircraft over Greenville on Feb. 20. The tests found that the jet has a maximum speed of 1,020 mph at 30,000 feet and a range of 1,150 miles, according to Rob Fuller, communications manager for Lockheed Martin.
Fuller said the two trainer jets will take off from its local complex an average of 10 times a month. The company is keeping two other trainer jets inside a hangar that it has refurbished and dedicated to the assembly work it hopes to land.
Last year, Lockheed Martin announced that it would conduct the final assembly and check out for the trainer jet at its Greenville facility. The company plans to produce four aircraft a month if awarded the contract, creating about 200 jobs at the company’s Greenville location, which now employs 475 people.
But Lockheed Martin isn’t the only company competing for the contract.
Boeing and Saab recently submitted its clean-sheet design for the contract. The companies have partnered and developed a twin-seat single-engine trainer jet that features a glass cockpit modelled to resembled that of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Feature, and an open systems architecture.
The aircraft, which has been named the BTX, incorporates elements from both the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, and the Saab Gripen combat aircraft. The aircraft’s first flight was conducted out of Boeing’s St. Louis facility in Missouri on December 20, 2016.
Sierra Nevada Corp. and Turkish Aerospace Industries have partnered to develop a new aircraft design. U.S. aerospace company Stavatti has submitted its Javelin T-X, a variant of the company’s ATG Javelin aircraft that was released in 2005, and a clean-sheet design known as the SM-47 T-X, a jet costing about $20 million each.
Meanwhile, Italy’s Leonardo has developed and submitted its T-100 aircraft for the contract. Textron AirLand, Northrup Grumman, and Raytheon canceled their plans to enter the competition earlier this year.
Richard Aboulafia, a senior aerospace analyst at Teal Group, an aerospace consultancy firm in Fairfax, Va., recently told the Upstate Business Journal that Lockheed Martin has a 60 percent chance of winning the Air Force contract because its aircraft doesn’t involve a lot of upfront product development costs that add to the price.
Now the competing companies will go through a selection process, Graham said. The Air Force will examine flight test data from the companies in June, and select the contract winner by at least 2018. Initial operational capability is 2024.
The Air Force contract is worth up to $16 billion, according to Fuller.
On Monday, Graham said he’s already discussing Lockheed Martin’s T-50A proposal with the Trump administration. “We need to replace a training jet that’s 50 years old … I’m really emphasizing the [South] Korea connection,” he said. “If you want to reset the world, stand firmly with South Korea and if you want to get value for your money, buy this jet.”
“I cannot think of a better signal to send to North Korea and the enemies of our nation than by partnering with one our best friends in South Korea,” Graham said. “If you buy this plane, you’re sending a signal to North Korea that America not only has [South] Korea’s back, but that we’re one team and one fight.”
Graham also said Lockheed Martin would likely garner approval from Congress to sell 19 F-16 fighter jets to the government of Bahrain. The company plans to move production of the aircraft to Greenville if the deal is approved.
Lockheed Martin currently produces the F-16 in Fort Worth, Texas.
However, Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth factory needs to make room for additional production of the more modern F-35 fighter jet, according to Don Erickson, site director for Lockheed Martin’s Greenville Operations Center.
The company plans to complete its final order of 18 F-16 fighter jets for Iraq this year at the Fort Worth factory, where it has made the fighter jet since the late 1970s, according to Lockheed Martin spokesman John Losinger.
After that, Lockheed Martin expects to produce the fighter jets for Bahrain. However, Losinger said the deal hasn’t been cleared yet by the State Department or Congress, a requirement for the sale of any advanced military equipment to a foreign country.
Aboulafia told the Upstate Business Journal the deal is more likely to move forward under the Trump administration than the Obama administration, which had taken the position that Bahrain’s human rights record needed to improve first.
“We’ve been preparing for this for some time, and we are very excited about the opportunity … We’re confident that we can certainly restart the line here for F-16, as soon as we get the contract award for Bahrain,” said Rod McLean, vice president and general manager of Lockheed Martin’s F-16/F-22 Integrated Fighter Group. “We’re getting a lot of support from congress.”
McLean said the fabrication and assembly of the F-16 could begin sometime in 2018 if the deal is approved. That would likely mean up to 180 jobs for Lockheed Martin’s Greenville Operations Center in southern Greenville County.
The company is also pursuing F-16 sales to other foreign governments.
The U.S. and India, for example, are negotiating a deal that could involve more than 100 of the aircraft. But as part of that deal, India will likely insist that production of the jet be moved within its own borders, Aboulafia said. But Lockheed Martin’s Greenville Operations Center might produce the first round of planes sold to India, and maintain some of the work over the life of the contract.
Graham said Lockheed Martin’s F-16, which is no longer purchased by the U.S. government, shows promise in other countries. “I think you’re going to find more and more Mideast nations and other countries throughout the world wanting to buy the Lockheed Martin F-16,” Graham said.