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New T-X trainer jet of US Air Force could become its next light-attack or aggressor aircraft


Although the purchase of new T-X trainers to replace the fleet of T-38 vehicles, more than 50 years old, remains a top priority, the US Air Force is beginning to explore whether the T-X could be procured for other uses, Gen. Mike Holmes said at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium.


New T X trainer jet of US Air Force could become its next light attack or aggressor aircraft Two Boeing T-Xs (Picture source: US Air Force)


“You could imagine a version of the airframe that could be equipped as a light fighter. You can imagine a version that is equipped as an adversary air-training platform,” he told reporters during a roundtable. "At the informal level, I have some guys that work for me that are thinking through what the requirement might be for those different versions. When or if that transitions and becomes something more formal will depend on a lot of things,” he said, adding that one of those variables is the budget.

The Air Force still hasn’t made clear its path forward on the light-attack experiment, but leaders have said they want to broaden the effort to include aircraft beyond the turboprop planes, which were the focus of the first experiments. The T-X, or a low-cost jet like it, could have a role, said Holmes, who declined to get into specifics until the fiscal 2020 budget is released with more details.

The Air Force plans to award contracts this year to a number of companies that provide “red air” training that simulates how an adversary fights in air-to-air combat, but the service believes its requirement could grow even larger, necessitating the purchase of a new aggressor plane.

When the T-X program was still a competition between multiple companies, the Air Force downplayed the T-X as an option for a future aggressor aircraft. However, now that a contract has been awarded, the service is taking a look at whether the new trainer could fit requirements, Holmes said at the conference.

A T-X, with its flying and sensor capabilities, is much closer to a modern day fighter, and Holmes hypothesized that much of the training that occurs once a pilot starts flying an F-15, F-16, F-22 or F-35 could actually be done inside the T-X.