The original rational for Korea Aerospace and Lockheed’s cooperation in developing the T-50 was to build a trainer that could qualify for the “whale” or “mother lode” account: America’s replacement for the venerable, but older than dirt, T-38 Talon.
KAI and Lockheed’s chief rival has always been Alenia Aermacchi’s M-346 Master. In the global pre-battles between KAI and Alenia Aermacchi there have been wins and losses. Alenia drew first blood with a win in Singapore. Then KAI won an order from Indonesia. Alenia won Israel. KAI got a big order from Iraq. Alenia won a modest order from Poland. KAI is apparently dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s with the Philippines. It’s been back and forth for the past four years.
However, all this is early dress rehearsal for the estimated 350 new jet trainers that the U.S. Air Force will need. This is, to say the least, a huge account, that neither side can afford to lose, thus both are playing to win. Alenia has partnered with General Dynamics, one of the largest U.S. based aerospace companies, and has offered to manufacture the M-346 at General Dynamics’ plants in Arizona and North Carolina. Needless to say the Koreans and Lockheed are probably dreaming up the same manufacturing arrangement in order to buyrecruit the support of influential Congressman.
Today’s Flightglobal has an excellent summary analysis (with a lot of pretty pictures) of the upcoming battle:
Richard Aboulafia, vice-president of analysis at Teal Group, calls the KAI/Lockheed T-50 Golden Eagle the “most capable” option – but also probably the most expensive to buy and operate. Lockheed declines to discuss prices, but Aboulafia estimates the T-50’s flyaway cost will be $26 million per aircraft.
The T-50, which has been in service since the mid-2000s, can reach Mach 1.5 and pull 8g, Lockheed says. The type’s single General Electric F404 engine also has an afterburner. “If the [USAF] has the budget, and they want [pilots] to [transition] easily into an F-22 or F-35, the T-50 is the choice,” says Aboulafia.
The BAE/Northrop Hawk option is the cheapest at an estimated $21 million per, but they are clearly the dark horse in this fight. The Alenia Aermacchi option is in the middle at an estimated $24 million per.
Aboulafia says Alenia Aermacchi’s T-100 – a derivative of its M-346 trainer – holds the middle ground. The aircraft are “very modern”, have “great flying characteristics” and will likely cost about $24 million each, he estimates. The M-346 (below) is powered by two Honeywell F124-200 turbofans, can pull 8g and reach 590kt at 5,000ft (1,520m), according to Alenia Aermacchi.
“It’s a good compromise,” says Aboulafia of the T-100. “The market has spoken to that. Israel and Singapore [are] two of the most prestigious militaries around.”
Here is a blog with an interesting (but technical) specification comparison between the two jets.
It will be an interesting, hard fought battle between the two. I am not normally a betting man, but looking at the selection process I would say that the M-346 Master has the edge if a pure trainer is what you are looking for. Key U.S. allies with similar air power doctrines have the M-346 or have it on order (Singapore, Poland and Israel). Out of all the KAI wins, only Indonesia has selected the T-50 as a pure trainer. The procurement history would favor the M-346 and imply that the T-50 a bit of an underdog. However, as it often happens, the USAF may want the “Cadillac” option and if so, then that would give the T-50 the edge.
(Photo credit: Flightglobal)