ST. LOUIS --- Ever since Boeing’s winning bid for the T-X trainer contract came in last September at least $10 billion less than the U.S. Air Force’s original estimate, blowing away two established competitors with a clean-sheet aircraft design, the question has persisted: Did the Boeing and Saab team “buy in” to the program by submitting a money-losing price to secure a franchise defense contract?
The answer carries strategic implications for the company.
If yes, then Boeing can expect to lose money up front as it delivers at least 351 T-X trainers through the next decade and hope to recoup the losses over the long-term with revenue from sustainment, modernization and potential derivatives.
If no, then Boeing has created a disruptively affordable template for new product development that can be applied widely across the company, just as new opportunities arise to develop a new mid-market airplane for the civil market, and a new class of high-speed rotorcraft and fixed-wing combat aircraft in the military sector.
Not surprisingly, Boeing insists the answer is the latter, and, for the first time, provided details of the secret formula that helped the company shock the market and impress the Air Force with its winning proposal for the T-X program.
The origins of Boeing’s T-X strategy started with recognizing the scale of the challenge. When Boeing officials partnered with Saab to design a clean-sheet aircraft for the T-X program in 2013, they knew they were competing with two proven mature aircraft designs—Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI)/Lockheed Martin’s T-50 and Leonardo’s T-100, a derivative of the M-346. Both had emerged over the last two decades as the clear leaders in the market for advanced jet trainers.
“We were competing against proven, in production aircraft, so we had to do things differently if we were going to compete and have an aircraft that was viable for that campaign,” said Paul Niewald, Boeing’s T-X chief engineer, who briefed reporters during a media tour of the company’s factory complex in St. Louis on May 15. (end of excerpt)
Click here for the full story, on Aviation Week website.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: As described in this story, Boeing’s approach to the T-X closely resembles that adopted by Saab, its T-X partner, for the development of the Gripen E fighter.
Saab also pioneered breaking down aircraft software into two separate layers, one for flight management and another for operational employment, each layer being developed in autonomous blocks.
The “model-based engineering” was first developed by France’s Dassault Systèmes with its Catia software, which Boeing has bought and widely uses in its commercial aircraft unit.
So, it is quite possible that, just as Saab is developing the Gripen E for what other aerospace manufacturers would consider a pittance, Boeing and Saab could produce the T-X and still generate a profit.)
Click here for our report on Saab’s low-cost development approach for Gripen.)