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​The company behind the T-50A trainer said it won't protest USAF's decision to award its T-X Advanced Trainer contract to Boeing/Saab. Boeing photo.

Lockheed Martin will not protest the Air Force’s Sept. 27 award of the T-X Advanced Trainer contract to Boeing/Saab, a spokesman said Thursday. The move clears away a major potential hurdle for Boeing and the Air Force to get the project underway.

“We are disappointed the T-50A was not selected as we believe it offered the most capability at a competitive cost and is ready now,” Lockheed spokesman Rob Fuller said in a brief statement. “With that said, we have decided not to protest the US Air Force decision.” No further details were given.

Previously, Fuller said the company had been debriefed by the Air Force on how it scored on the contest, and had asked some questions. It was withholding a protest decision pending the answers to those questions.

Boeing’s win of the $9.2 billion contract was noteworthy in that it came in some $7 billion below what the Air Force was estimating the program would cost. Lockheed’s T-50A offering was considered the top challenger to Boeing, and it was expected that the credibility of such a dramatically low bid might have formed the basis of a protest. The Air Force has declined to say how close the Boeing and Lockheed bids were.

Speaking to reporters shortly after the award announcement was made, Air Force acquisition chief Will Roper said that while he wouldn’t characterize the contract as “protest-proof,” there was unprecedented amount of “transparency” built into the competition to ensure that bidders “knew exactly” what the Air Force wanted, and what it would and wouldn’t pay extra for.

The initial award of the KC-X aerial tanker program was thrown out in 2008 when Boeing successfully protested that the Air Force had not followed its own rules for judging that contest. On the re-run of the competition, Boeing won, and is now building the KC-46 tanker. (See also: The Tanker Answer from the June 2011 issue of Air Force Magazine.)

The T-50A is a derivative of the Lockheed/Korean Aerospace Industries T-50, which serves with the Republic of Korea Air Force. Fuller said the company has not yet decided if it will offer the T-50A in the world trainer market, which the company estimated during the T-X competition as comprising some 2,000 aircraft, now minus the 351 that Boeing will build for USAF.

Leonardo of Italy also offered an in-production aircraft for the T-X contest, a variant of its M-346 Master called the T-100, but has not said whether it will protest the Boeing win.