Lockheed Martin will offer the T-50A supersonic jet trainer in the Air Force competition to replace the T-38 Talon, the company said Thursday, also announcing it will build a final assembly and checkout facility for the jet in Greenville, S.C. Rob Weiss, head of Lockheed Martin’s “Skunk Works” advanced development division, said the company settled on the T-50 late in 2015 after completing 80 percent of the work on a parallel “clean sheet” design. At that point, it was clear that designing, developing, and creating a manufacturing capability for an all-new jet would be “eight times more expensive” than a modified T-50, and the clean-sheet “wouldn’t do anything the T-50 doesn’t already do,” Weiss said. The T-50A is a modification of the T-50 trainer Lockheed helped Korean Aerospace Industries design for the Republic of Korea Air Force, and derives in part from the company’s F-16. Besides avoiding the risk of an all-new design, the T-50A will allow the USAF to get jets in service possibly even before the service’s 2024 goal, Weiss said. A new design would demand a “substantial and unacceptable amount of concurrency;” compelling the USAF to develop the jet while producing it, he said. Two T-50s are being modified into production-representative T-50A prototypes and will come to the US from Korea in the next few months, Weiss said, adding that USAF will be invited to do extensive flying evaluations with them. Boeing and Northrop Grumman have both said they will offer an all-new design for the T-X competition. (See also: Teeing Up the T-X, T-X: $1 Billion a Year)
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.