Sweet Home if Leonardo Wins T-X

If the Leonardo T-100 wins the Air Force’s T-X advanced trainer contract, the jet would be assembled at Moton Field, Ala., coincidentally where the Tuskegee Airmen trained in World War II, Alabama governor Robert Bentley announced Thursday. He said the company will “create 750 … high-paying jobs … over a 10-year ramp-up period” at the site, which will get going with a public-private partnership lease of new-build facilities. Leonardo’s investment in the area will be between $200 million and $250 million if it wins T-X, Bentley said. Leonardo had previously planned to set up final assembly and checkout of the T-100 in Meridian, Miss., when it was partnered with Raytheon on the bid. At Moton Field, Leonardo would conduct “structural sub-assembly, integration, final assembly, and … research and testing,” and make deliveries to the Air Force, Bentley said in a news release. The service’s requirement is for 350 T-X aircraft.

DRS CEO William J. Lynn touted the aircraft as the “best trainer” in the contest, which he called “the most operationally proven, low-cost, low-risk integrated training system.” The ground-based training system for the T-100 is being supplied by CAE USA of Florida. The T-100 is the Leonardo (formerly Alenia Aermacchi) M-346 Master configured for US requirements, and many elements will be made in Italy, although Leonardo has not given a figure on its expected US content. Israel, Italy, and Singapore collectively operate 60 M-346s and Poland has a handful on order. Bids on the T-X are due March 30; other competitors who have said definitively they will compete include Lockheed Martin with its T-50A and Boeing/Saab with an unnamed new design. Textron has said it will not offer its privately-developed Scorpion jet as the aircraft doesn’t meet USAF’s requirements. Northrop Grumman announced in early February it would not bid on T-X, even though it had a new-design prototype flying, hinting that the program had become purely a lowest-cost competition, which presumably it felt it would not win. Lockheed Skunk Works chief Rob Weiss told reporters in March that the competition had, in fact, become a “low-cost shootout.” The Air Force plans to award the T-X contract by the end of this year and achieve initial operating capability in 2024.