The U. S. Air Force is looking to replace its fleet of aging T-38 Talons, and has named the program T-X. Wikipedia has a good general overview of the program.
The T-100 is essentially a block upgrade to Leonardo’s M-346. (Leonardo was formerly Alenia Aermacchi.) The M-346 is a proven sub-sonic jet trainer in use by the Italian Air Force. It has received some criticism because of questions over it’s ability to sustain high-G maneuvers, and in this article Raytheon addresses those charges.
What I found extremely interesting was that the Raytheon representative said that the “USAF had asked contractors to ‘make accommodation’ for an expanded remit for the T-X platform. This alludes to possible future use as an aggressor platform, or maybe even putting it into contention for the A-10 replacement ‘A-X’ arena.”
So the T-X program may become the T/A-X program.
In many ways, it makes a lot of sense. Despite the USAF’s initial enthusiasm to have the F-35 take over the role of the aging A-10, Congress and perhaps a bit of common sense begin to peek through to the E-Ring, and a realization that loiter times and lower speeds actually meant something in the close air support mission. Having a dual role may actually work in this situation.
When it comes to the CAS mission, stealth means little. There is the assumption that any Anti-Access/Area-Denial issues have already been mitigated, at least to a certain degree. This allows a CAS capable airframe time to loiter, provide continual support, identify targets better, and make repeated passes with faster turnaround time. It also means for a lower cost airframe, and most likely a lower maintenance airframe.
One of the chief competitors to the T-100 will be from Lockheed/KAI, the T-50, another existing design in use by Korea. It’s a much faster, sleeker airframe, and already has variants for the trainer, attack, and even light fighter roles.
Northrop Grumman and a Boeing/Saab consortium will also be part of the program, coming in with clean sheet designs. Textron AirLand had initially looked at entering their Scorpion design, but a review of the requirements dictated a clean sheet design from them also.
It will be interesting to see where this program goes, and how the possible addition of the “A-X” to the “T-X” will play out.
Personally, I like the T-50. It’s a modern, proven design that is in service now, and has already been through all the hard work of the initial development, design, and prototyping. Still, whatever airframe is chosen is expected to train pilots for existing 4th, 5th, and future 6th generation aircraft- so it will need to have staying power and flexibility to keep up with demands.