By Valerie Insinna, Defense News
March 30, 2017, WASHINGTON -- If Leonardo DRS wins the T-X competition with its T-100 trainer, the company will manufacture the aircraft in Alabama, it announced Thursday.
The Italian firm plans to build an assembly center at Moton Field in Tuskegee, Alabama, if awarded the T-X contract. Upward of $200 million will be spent on construction including buildings, infrastructure and equipment, according to an news release from the Alabama governor's office.
The announcement was a blow to Meridian, Mississippi, where Leonardo had planned to assemble the T-100 when it had been partnered with its former prime contractor, Raytheon.
Based on the few details released so far, Leonardo appears to be delegating more T-100 work to the Moton Field facility than it had planned to give to the Raytheon-fronted Meridian location. The Meridian facility would have been tasked with final checkout and assembly, but Raytheon and Leonardo never came to a final decision on whether structural assembly would also be done in Mississippi. However, “the Alabama workforce will perform structural sub-assembly, integration, final assembly, and conduct research and testing at the site,” the news release said.
And while the Raytheon-Leonardo team had estimated it would create 450 jobs in Mississippi, Leonardo DRS believes it can generate 750 full-time jobs in Alabama over a 10-year period beginning in 2019. The facility itself would be funded via a public-private partnership and leased by Leonardo while the T-100 is in production.
“Building the T-100 aircraft in Alabama will create American jobs while providing the Air Force with the world’s best trainer,” said Leonardo DRS CEO William Lynn in an emailed statement.
Leonardo DRS executives announced the planned manufacturing site during a March 30 ceremony at Moton Field, which was attended by Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and community leaders, including Tuskegee’s mayor, Tony Haygood.
“Leonardo’s project will have a massive economic impact in Macon County and across the region through the creation of high-paying jobs,” Bentley said. “Moreover, these T-100 training aircraft — built at the site where the legendary Tuskegee Airmen trained during World War II — will prepare a new generation of fighter pilots whose mission is to keep our country safe.”
March 30 also marked the deadline for T-X competitors to submit proposals, ahead of a downselect later this year. Leonardo’s T-100 will face off against Lockheed Martin’s T-50A, a version of Korea Aerospace Industries’ T-50 trainer flown by South Korea and other air forces — as well as clean-sheet designs from a Boeing-Saab team and a Sierra Nevada Corp.-Turkish Aerospace Industries team.
The T-100, which is based on the M-346 trainer flown in Italy, Israel, Singapore and Poland, is one of the most mature planes proposed in the competition.
However, the company has had issues keeping a U.S. prime contractor on board, with both General Dynamics and then Raytheon jumping ship. The company announced in February that its U.S. subsidiary Leonardo DRS would take the reins — a decision that Lynn said will put the T-100 in a better position than ever.
“As the RFP [request for proposals] was developed, it evolved more and more to a focus on price, and I think the Leonardo-DRS combination is best positioned to get to that lowest price,” he said in an interview with Defense News on March 7.
Asked whether Leonardo would offer a cheaper proposal alone than it would have been able to offer with Raytheon, Lynn said he didn’t have specific knowledge on whether the Raytheon-Leonardo team had settled on the proposal’s total evaluated price.
However, he said that the DRS-fronted team would be “leaner” than it would have been with another company priming the effort and that it is in a position to put forward the most “cost-effective” bid.
“There’s less cost structure, there are fewer layers and less overhead,” he explained. “I think we have the most proven aircraft, I think we have the best embedded training system and I think if we have the lowest price. I think we will win.”
In a phone call with reporters on March 29, Boeing's T-X program manager Ted Torgerson said the company had submitted its bid on Tuesday. The company has also finished gathering all of the flight and performance data it needs to meet U.S. Air Force requirements.
Boeing had prioritized collecting that data well ahead of the June deadline, Togerson explained. Since that process is now over, it can focus on beginning flight tests of its second T-X prototype, which he expects to occur within the next three to four weeks.