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T-38 Talon Replacement Postponed

As part of the administration’s fiscal year 2013 defense budget proposal, the U.S. Air Force is tapping on the brakes of its T-X program to replace the Northrop T-38C Talon advanced jet trainer.

Among aircraft that are being suggested to replace the T-38C are the British Hawk AJT (Advanced Jet Trainer), the Korean T-50 Golden Eagle and the Italian M346 Master, all of which would be assembled in the United States if chosen. Boeing and Northrop Grumman are also working on new aircraft designs that may be submitted in the T-X contest.

The budget plan postpones a “source selection” by one year until 2016 and puts off initial operating capability (IOC) of the T-X aircraft from FY2017 to FY2020, according to the Air Education and Training Command (AETC).

T-38 Talon

A T-38 A-model and T-38 C-model are flown in formation one last time at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Sept. 19, 2013. U.S. Air Force photo by Bobbi Zapka

Among aircraft that are being suggested to replace the T-38C are the British Hawk AJT (Advanced Jet Trainer), the Korean T-50 Golden Eagle and the Italian M346 Master, all of which would be assembled in the United States if chosen. Boeing and Northrop Grumman are also working on new aircraft designs that may be submitted in the T-X contest.

Although the Talon was upgraded with a digital cockpit, it cannot provide training in some flight operations performed by advanced fighters like the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II. Officials would also like the T-X trainer to be capable of receiving air-to-air refueling.

Air staff officers point out that the T-38 Talon design is now 51 years old and that at least one aircraft crash has been attributed to a structural issue related to aging. Although the Talon was upgraded with a digital cockpit, it cannot provide training in some flight operations performed by advanced fighters like the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II. Officials would also like the T-X trainer to be capable of receiving air-to-air refueling.

T-38 Talon

A U.S. Air Force T-38 Talon and B-2 Spirit fly in formation during a training mission over Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., Feb. 20, 2014. U.S. Department of Defense photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder, U.S. Air Force

As reported earlier in this space, when Air Force Secretary Michael Donley recently ticked off a list of programs he hoped to spare from pending budget cuts, T-X was not among them.

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