The US Air Force is expected by the end of the month to award a contract for its new two seat jet fighter trainer — dubbed the T-X. These new trainers are badly needed because the existing trainers are on average more than 50 years old. The known competitors include one American designed and built plane, and two foreign designed and built planes — one South Korean and one Italian. Both foreign planes are designs from more than 20 years ago. Both are essentially retreads in hopes of making them fit the Air Forces’ new requirements. But in neither case would the Air Force be getting a fresh, new and high tech design.
Of course, the foreign companies partner with American firms to give the foreign designed and built planes a little American flavoring. But this does nothing to change the fact that the plane is mostly designed and built elsewhere with final assembly in the US. Moreover, these foreign firms are offering a design from yesteryear that is being updated in an attempt to hide their age — a botox treatment of sorts. In contrast, the American plane is designed from the ground up to meet and exceed the Air Forces’ requirements. It isn’t a 20 year old plane with a few modifications slapped on.
Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) is partnering with Lockheed Martin. Their offering was originally designed more than two decades ago to train South Korean pilots. Buying a jet trainer originally designed and built when flip phones were the latest and greatest phone technology is a bad idea.
But that isn’t the only problem with the Korean plane. According to news reports, KAI is in the middle of several severe corruption scandals — including for manipulating test results for defense projects and financial irregularities. Doing business with people who are a high risk to cheat you isn’t just a bad idea — it’s asking for trouble.
But KAI’s problems do not stop with corruption — South Korea is known to use heavy government subsidies to beat out American manufacturers with cheap offerings. But buying an aging design at an artificially low price makes little sense for America’s pilots or for our economy.
Leonardo S.p.A., an Italian company, is partnering with its American subsidiary Leonardo DRS. Their offering is a derivative of an older Russian jet that is currently built in Italy. The Italians only fly 18 of them. The Polish military flies only 8. Old Russian planes aren’t in high demand for a lot of good reasons. Like the Korean plane, even at a bargain basement price, this Russian plane is not a good deal.
The only plane in the competition that is a new, modern, American design and also American built is the Boeing fighter jet trainer. While the Boeing trainer will include Saab as a team member, the Boeing jet is more than 90% American made and will support 17,000 American jobs. The two foreign planes will merely do the final assembly in America and as a result will add only about one-tenth of the jobs that the American designed and built jet will provide.
There are a number of reasons the Air Force should select the American designed and American built fighter trainer. First, it is by far the best jet. It is designed to maximize its training capability with the ability to reconfigure its cockpit, and it is designed to evolve as technology, missions and training needs change. It has stadium seating so that the flight instructor can sit in back and be seated higher and have an excellent view of exactly what the trainee is seeing and experiencing.
A former Air Force officer who was responsible for training pilots said this plane, with its associated ground base training equipment, is the best Advanced Pilot Training System that technology can provide. It is also designed to be adaptable and flexible. It is so capable that many nations may use a variant of this new jet as a light attack fighter. No other jet trainer provides all these important advantages.
Second, the American jet is designed from the ground up with maintenance and sustainment savings built in. So over the lifetime of the jet, it will provide cost savings every year.
Third, America should not trust its sensitive national security to foreign nations. The Chinese have used something as innocuous as cell phones to compromise American national security. For this reason, Chinese telecom companies Huawei Technologies and ZTE Corp were banned from military bases earlier this year.
Let’s hope Air Force decision makers remember this historical truth.