It seems the Boeing/Saab T-X has won the competition to provide the USAF with its next-generation advanced training aircraft.
Here's a brief video showing one of the T-X prototypes taking off, and performing a roll.
I think it's a great choice, for three reasons.
- It was the only "clean-sheet" design submitted for the T-X program. Lockheed Martin teamed with Korea Aircraft Industries to offer a derivative of the latter's KAI T-50 Golden Eagle, which first flew in 2002 (and was itself derived from the earlier F-16 fighter). Italian firm Leonardo went through several potential US partners before settling on the T-100, a derivative of its M-346 Master trainer, which first flew in 2004 (and, interestingly, was initially co-developed with Yakovlev of Russia, which now makes a very similar aircraft, the Yak-130). There were other contenders that dropped out before the final selection was made. Only Boeing and Saab developed a brand-new aircraft, tailor-made for the USAF's requirements, and offering room for growth around them.
- The design of the Boeing/Saab T-X is visibly inspired by Saab's experience with the JAS-39 Gripen fighter, which is probably the premier small-to-mid-size supersonic fighter in the world at this time. It's proved to be a very successful design, and is also the most economically priced aircraft in its class. By bringing that expertise to the table, and leveraging Boeing's world-class engineering and technology, Saab has gained access to assets that will benefit it in future, while Boeing is learning from one of Europe's most innovative design teams. Both firms will benefit.
- There's every potential for the T-X program to develop into a light fighter program, just as the Northrop T-38 Talon (the USAF's current, and very long-in-the-tooth, advanced training aircraft) was developed into the Northrop F-5A/B Freedom Fighter, and later the F-5E/F Tiger II, light fighters. These were much cheaper and simpler than the fully-fledged third-generation fighters of the 1960's and 1970's, but still surprisingly effective, and were sold all over the world to US allies. Given Saab's fighter and strike aircraft experience in smaller airframes over five generations (including the Tunnan, Lansen, Draken, Viggen and Gripen), and Boeing's F-15 Eagle and F/A-18 Super Hornet programs, the two companies have all the experience and expertise needed to develop the T-X into a modern-day equivalent of the Tiger II, affordably priced and well able to hold its own in modern air combat. Perhaps it will become what Northrop aspired to, but failed to achieve, with its technically very good but commercially ill-fated F-5G program, which grew into the F-20 Tigershark.
I expect Lockheed Martin (and, perhaps, Leonardo) will protest the award, which promises to be worth billions of dollars to the winner; but I think the right plane won this competition. It's a generation ahead of all its competitors. That counts for a lot, IMHO.