The T-X program must succeed, as it represents the foundation on which core US Air Force missions are based. Leadership is keenly aware that every year the T-38 Talon remains in service, sustainment costs will surge, while the aviators who will fly the Air Force’s most modern and sophisticated, or “fifth generation,” aircraft will not receive an optimum foundation of skills in pilot training. A simple aircraft replacement for the T-38 is not the goal.
A successful T-X acquisition must balance the competing demands of both procurement and operations and sustainment bow waves to best serve the long-term needs of the Air Force’s most precious resource: Airmen. The fifth generation force structure will only be as good as the individuals who operate, maintain, and support its employment for generations to come. Consequently, both government and industry must pursue a T-X system that essentially transforms pilot training to meet the requirements of combat aviation in an era of the information-infused “combat cloud.” At the same time, the enduring nature of the rapid paced, high-demand training pipeline for novice aviators necessitates a high-use, durable, and supportable trainer aircraft within the T-X system.
In the time remaining, the Air Force can continue to work to get the T-X offering as right as possible by focusing on: meeting the highest performance demands for building fifth generation training; acquiring a total training enterprise, not simply an aircraft; further developing open mission systems requirements and beneficial live, virtual, and constructive standards; and pursuing value with a regard for savings across the program’s life cycle.