PAS11: Finmeccanica is ready for USAF trainer fight

Italy's defense giant wants to build the Air Force's T-X trainer, and it's playing for keeps. But so are all of its international rivals.

PARIS — Giuseppe Giordo, head of the aeronautics division for Italian defense giant Finmeccanica, declared Wednesday there’s a simple explanation for the name it gave the jet trainer it wants to sell the U.S. Air Force. The T-100, Giordo said, “is double the platform” of the T-50 trainer that Lockheed Martin and its Korean partner want the Air Force to buy.

Lockheed might have something to say about that, as would the other big defense firms that want to build the Air Force’s T-X trainer: Boeing and BAE Systems. The way things are shaping up, they may all take the opportunity. In an otherwise quiet environment for the defense sector, the one area in which the world’s aerospace firms all seemed willing to throw elbows this week was the pending competition to build some 350 new two-seat trainers to replace the Air Force’s fleet of T-38 Talons.

Giordo said Finmeccanica hasn’t decided yet whether it will seek a partner in the American defense industry to help pitch the T-100, which would be a version of its existing M-346 trainer. That will depend on the actual details of the competition, and in the meantime, the company wants to keep its options open. Giordo and his counterparts across the aerospace world have eyes like dinner plates at the prospect of the T-X deal. It not only involves billions of dollars with of jets, but, as Boeing Military Aircraft President Chris Chadwick said Tuesday, it also will probably involve some kind of new simulators or virtual trainers, possibly giving industry another new source of income.

As for the actual aircraft, Boeing plans to offer a new design for the T-X, although that might mean it’s the riskiest, as Flight’s Steve Trimble wrote here. Giordo, BAE and Lockheed are hoping their existing, more familiar aircraft will give them the edge in Austerity America. So with this many different competitors, it might not be long before the big new acquisition battle in Washington becomes the Trainer Wars.