More Turbulence in the US DoD Aviation Training Enterprise

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The US Navy stimulated a flurry of activity in the defense jet-training community on the cusp of the July 4 Independence holiday with its issuance of yet another  request for information (RFI) for its evolving Undergraduate Jet Training System (UJTS).

Naval Air Systems Command describes UJTS as an effort to recapitalize the sea service’s intermediate and advanced jet-training capabilities, specifically the venerable T-45 Goshawk. The scope of UJTS is significant and wide-ranging to MS&T followers. While the new aircraft generated from this program will enhance availability, meet future strike training requirements and provide a platform that aligns closely with strike aircraft that student graduates will operate in the fleet,” NAVAIR further notes: “The program will include aircraft, simulators, curricula and associated equipment.” Further, Augmented Reality and the Embedded Synthetic Training attributes are presented in the RFI, with one indication the Navy is truly looking to train its fast-jet pilots for 5th gen, and even next generation aircraft, assignments.

While the Pentagon grapples with the impact of the delayed introduction of the Boeing T-7A into its aviation training enterprise, this latest document adds a bit more uncertainty about the near-term ability of prospective Navy and Marine Corps aviators to truly train as they will operate on their way to assignments with the three models of the services’ fifth-generation F-35s.

The major outcome of this RFI is the sea service is pushing back a potential contract award of a T-45 replacement by at least two years, to second quarter fiscal year 2028. The previous RFI stated a contract award was eyed for FY26. Among the issues to be resolved by naval aviation leadership under this RFI is the requirement to land on airfields set up to represent a carrier deck.

The imperative to replace the ageing 193-aircraft T-45C fleet is compelling. Even by the Navy’s admission in various documents, this training aircraft fleet suffers from materiel challenges, including significant aircraft, engine, and other component obsolescence.

Industry teams expressing interest, gleaned from numerous media pronouncements, in a UJTS aircraft include: Boeing, for a Navy version of its T-7A Red Hawk trainer under development to replace the US Air Force’s T-38; Lockheed Martin, for the TF-50N, a new version of its T-50 that it has partnered on with Korea Aerospace Industries; and Textron and Leonardo, for the M-346N, a modified version of the M-346.

An earlier UJTS RFI and service pronouncements place the anticipated size of a T-45 replacement fleet at 145.

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