The futures of the Air Force’s JSTARS and light attack plane initiatives remain uncertain, but the next generation trainer is likely to begin production before the end of 2018.
Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System
The E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, the Air Force’s primary provider of ground surveillance, targeting information and command and control, was previously expected to get a traditional recapitalization, meaning a new plane would be selected and equipped with a radar system.
Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman have all submitted proposals for the recapitalization program, worth an estimated $7 billion. Additionally, Northrop and Raytheon are competing to produce the radar that will be integrated with the aircraft.
Now, though, Air Force leadership is questioning whether a large airborne node is the most efficient way to conduct command and control missions on the future battlefield. As a result, the service is considering whether to cancel the recapitalization program altogether and use existing assets in the short term until a more advanced solution is developed.
But abandoning the recapitalization could prove problematic, as Congress has authorized roughly $400 million in funding for the program in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act.
OA-X light attack aircraft experiment
The new OA-X light attack aircraft initiative is similarly in limbo.
The Air Force is still evaluating results from the flight demonstrations at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, this summer. Four aircraft designs participated: the A-29 from Sierra Nevada Corp. and Embraer; the AT-802L Longsword by L3 and Air Tractor; and the AT-6 Wolverine and Scorpion jet, both by Textron.
OA-X also received about $400 million in the NDAA this year, with a number of Capitol Hill leaders saying the program should continue past the prototype stage.
The Air Force could next take two or more of the aircraft to the Middle East for a combat demonstration this coming year.
T-X aircraft trainer
Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Leonardo DRS are competing for the T-X aircraft trainer contract. More than $2 billion is at stake over the next five years.
In October, Air Force Undersecretary Matt Donovan said he expects the T-X contract to be awarded in the coming year, likely around the end of March.
Wilson confirmed that estimate, adding that the delay in picking the winner for the contract won’t delay plans to begin production of the new trainer before the end of fiscal 2018.
Associate editor Aaron Mehta contributed to this report.