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T-38 Replacement Decision Approaching

If funding will permit, the U. S. Air Force may soon know whether, and how, it wants to replace the long-serving T-38 Talon supersonic trainer.

If T-X gets the go-ahead, officials will require several features not found on the T-38, including advanced sensors and datalinks and an in-flight fueling receptacle for training in air-to-air refueling.

Service experts expect to release an Analysis of alternatives (AoA) this spring or summer and to advise Pentagon officials whether to go ahead with a replacement called the T-X. If a green light is given, funding for a fly-off competition could appear in the administration’s fiscal year 2012 budget request. But Air Force officials – who are currently orchestrating a reduction-in-force of both enlisted and officer strength – acknowledge that the dollars for a new advanced trainer may be elusive in today’s budget climate.

Lockheed Martin/KAI T-50

The Lockheed Martin/KAI T-50 is one candidate for a T-38 replacement. Lockheed Martin photo

If T-X gets the go-ahead, officials will require several features not found on the T-38, including advanced sensors and datalinks and an in-flight fueling receptacle for training in air-to-air refueling.

Alenia Aermacchi M-346

The Alenia Aermacchi M-346 is under consideration by several countries for an advanced trainer and might be a candidate for the U.S. Air Force’s T-X program. Alenia Aermacchi photo

Expected candidates for a T-X production order include a new Boeing trainer loosely derived from the U.S. Navy‘s T-45C Goshawk; the T-50 from a Lockheed MartinKorean Aerospace Industries partnership, with design features inherited from its big brother the F-16 Fighting Falcon; the Alenia-Aermacchi M-346; and a different version of the Hawk from British Aerospace.

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Robert F. Dorr is an author, U.S. Air Force veteran, and retired American diplomat who...