Raytheon, in partnership with Leonardo, is offering the T-100 for the T-X competition.
T-100 Program History
Raytheon is the prime contractor for the T-100 bid for T-X. The T-100 is described as a ‘Block Upgrade’ for the baseline Leonardo-Finmeccanica M-346 Master.
Primarily built by Leonardo (Alenia Aermacchi) in Venegono-Varese in northern Italy, the M-346 Master program started life in the early 2000s as a redesigned and Westernized version of the Yakovlev Yak-130. Although the Italian trainer still shares a superficial similarity with the Russian design, the M-346 is a very different beast altogether. Moreover, since Leonardo shares design rights and has production and modification rights for the Yak-130, Italian industry has been able to tailor the Master for a specifically Western market, with the aim of providing an aircraft suitable for schooling pilots for the latest-generation fighters. As such, the Master is equipped with advanced digital avionics including a full-authority quadruplex fly-by-wire control system.
The M-346 is equipped with a full-digital cockpit, multifunction displays (MFD), hands on throttle and stick (HOTAS) controls, a head-up display (HUD) for student and instructor, voice control inputs, carefree handling and helmet-mounted display.
The Master’s aerodynamic configuration is optimized for manoeuvrability at high angles of attack, exceeding 40°. Two Honeywell F124-GA-200 turbofans means the M-346 is able to reach transonic speeds; in level flight it can sustain 590kt and a rate of climb of 22,000ft per minute.
The M-346’s performance is achieved despite it lacking afterburning engines, which would significantly impact the average flight-hour cost and the aircraft maintenance cost. The high fuel consumption of an afterburning engine would also reduce endurance and training session duration. In a given mission the M-346 has an average fuel burn of 60kg per minute.
The Italian Air Force was the launch customer for the M-346 (known as the T-346 in Italian service). 61° Stormo at Lecce-Galatina is now home to the T-346A as part of a new pilot training program, with 212° Gruppo responsible for the high-end advanced lead-in fighter training (LIFT), or Phase IV work. The first T-346A (MM55154/61-01) in so-called Full Trainer (FT) configuration was delivered to 212° Gruppo on February 26, 2015. The arrival heralded the start of a total overhaul of the Italian approach to flying training under the so-called Integrated Pilot Training System (IPTS) 2020.
The Embedded Tactical Training System (ETTS), which is the integrated simulation platform, allows the student to use a variety of sensors such as radar, targeting pod, a suite of electronic countermeasures, to name a few. All these sensors can be employed with other aircraft of the same type as if they were real and, at the same time, also interacting with ground simulators to recreate an environment typical of that of the latest-generation combat aircraft. The simulator on the ground can similarly interact with live flying aircraft for joint missions.
The Integrated Training System (ITS) includes not only the aircraft but also the Ground Based Training System (GBTS) and an Integrated Logistic Support (ILS). The purpose-built training facility for the GBTS includes various classrooms with specific simulation systems and teaching aids that readily allow the student to become familiar with the aircraft, its procedures, on-board systems and tactics that can all be harnessed ahead of the expensive and demanding live flying.
A total of 59 M-346s orders have been confirmed. The Republic of Singapore Air Force ordered 12 aircraft, which have all been delivered yet and serve with 150 Squadron at the French air base of Cazaux. According to the Lecce base commander Col Paolo Tarantino, 150 Squadron is planning to make the move to Lecce in the near future so that Singapore then can make use of all the base’s facilities, including the Integrated Training System building with simulators. The AM has taken delivery of six aircraft and has three more on order. Israel ordered 30 M-346s, locally designated as Lavi. Poland has ordered eight M-346s of which the first will be delivered — probably to Dęblin air base — later this year.
The T-100 offering for T-X began as a collaboration between General Dynamics and Alenia Aermacchi. However, in early April 2015 General Dynamics pulled out of T-X. General Dynamics’ decision to ditch its T-X effort as a prime contractor was announced on March 26, just a week after the Air Force released its final program requirements.
The General Dynamics move appeared to reflect a realization that could not compete with an off-the shelf solution. The M-346 had looked a strong candidate early on in the T-X competition, but presumably its lineage in the Russian Yak-130 did little to help its cause in the US. As the requirements were set out it was clear that the G-threshold set by the USAF would be challenging for the M-346. A General Dynamics statement said: ‘When the program was as an off-the-shelf airplane, we believed that our program management skills provided value-add to the customer. However, as the program moved from an off-the-shelf-only airplane to a more engineered trainer, we no longer believed that value proposition existed.’
Raytheon stepped in to partner with the newly-re-named Leonardo, offering the T-100.
Speaking at the Farnborough International Airshow in July 2016, Raytheon’s Dan Darnell, a retired USAF three-star general (former F-15C pilot, Weapons School graduate and former team leader of the Thunderbirds!) said that the T-100 presents a ‘mature’ solution for the USAF’s T-X requirement for 350 aircraft, referring to the fact that the T-346A is currently providing a stellar capability that is currently (arguably) unmatched on the world stage.
A Leonardo test aircraft is thought to have been earmarked as a technology demonstrator for the T-100 and it will receive the new large-area cockpit displays and a ‘plumbed’ aerial refueling point to meet the boom-refueling requirement for the USAF. It says that ‘Seventy per cent of its entire solution’ will be built in the US, including final assembly of the T-100 aircraft.
The ability for the T-100 to meet the exacting USAF performance parameters has been open to question. ‘There’s a lot of urban myth and legend that the aircraft (T-100) can’t meet key performance parameters’, said Dan Darnell, referring to the maneuverability of the aircraft and its instantaneous turn rate. He added that the T-100 ‘easily meets and exceeds (USAF) requirements.’ While Raytheon says the T-100 ‘easily meets and exceeds’ the T-X minimum-G, instantaneous-turn and sustained turn-rate requirements, Leonardo chief test pilot Enrico Scarabotto is reported as having told Aviation Week last year that the aircraft’s performance is ‘on the line.’
One of the strengths of the M-346 syllabus is the synthetic training it offers. At Lecce, two Part-Task Training (PTT) simulators, each with a 180° (horizontal) and 40° (vertical) screen are located in a hall. The screens surround a mock-up cockpit. The PTTs are used as an advanced simulator.
The real ‘showpieces’ of the Integrated Training System (ITS) are two non-movable Full-Mission Simulators (FMS) each located in their own hall. Each ultra-modern dome is equipped with a complete M-346 cockpit section, including an out-of-action ejection seat. The image projected in the dome offers incredible detail (some 20in). The dome gives the student pilot (SP) an almost 360° view, and only the small entrance door just behind the cockpit and two small floor panels on each side of the cockpit section are without image. The FMS is able to simulate all procedures extremely realistically (the reason that 50 per cent simulator training can be used in the full training syllabus). The ejection seat has safety belts that tighten when the SP pulls g-forces, and the seat vibrates a little during simulated taxiing, bad weather or air traps. Although non-moveable, the SP thus experiences some forces in the FMS during their training.
The Embedded Tactical Training System (ETTS) is an office from which the IP can submit all kinds of scenarios to the SP in the simulators. A huge advantage compared to other simulators is the fact the PTT and FMS simulators can work together on the ground, but they can also ‘join in’ an actual mission by a real M-346. One or all PTTs and FMS can be connected by a smart tactical link from a ground station (also manned by an IP), to one or more flying M-346s, or vice versa. An SP in an M-346 can be confronted on his multifunction displays, ‘radar’ or head-up display (HUD) with an SP colleague in the simulator. The colleague on the ground can act as a wingman or as an enemy during air combat maneuvering (ACM), and of course vice versa. Even enemy aircraft can be projected on the Master’s ‘radar’ and HUD while there are no real aircraft in the vicinity.
The aim of the M-346 ITS is to be able to simulate everything on the ground, from basic M-346 training to complex flying scenarios.
The Italian training school at Lecce is a fantastic example of how live/synthetic training can be effectively realized. The M-346 is an extremely smart solution for modern fast jet training needs, and was selected by Poland on cost grounds, so another huge bonus for the cost side despite being twin-engined. The M-346 has also turned its hand to ‘Red Air’ missions, providing useful low-cost aggressor training both in Italy and during the NATO Tactical Leadership Programme (TLP) in Spain. This may help endorse the idea of using a trainer as an aggressor — but not necessarily uniquely support the T-100. The USAF has said that wider mission sets will be useful down the line and that the T-X winner should be able to embrace expanded roles. This is logical as USAF T-38s regularly support large exercises in the aggresosr role, plus hold a companion trainer role for B-2 and F-22 units.
There are still questions over the T-100s performance. The most recent draft RFP incentivises performance, something the USAF is obsessed with, and this will likely drive up the already high standard for T-X performance, which could be a disadvantage for the T-100.