Though many view Leonardo DRS’s effort to land the U.S. Air Force’s next-generation trainer contract as a long shot, CEO Bill Lynn maintains its T-100 is the lowest-risk solution.

The T-100 is up against Lockheed Martin and Korea Aerospace Industries’ T-50 and a clean-sheet design being developed by Boeing and Saab to make 350 trainers to replace the U.S. Air Force’s T-38 Talon. The T-X Advanced Pilot Training program is worth up to US$16.3 billion and perhaps more on the international market. Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, the air force’s military deputy for acquisition, said recently that the service does intend to award a contract by the end of the summer.

The service has said price is important as it tries to find an aircraft that can maneuver at 6.5g. Lynn continues to tout the T-100’s proven ability – not only because four air forces have flown a total of 60 M-346 aircraft for more than 20,000 flight hours – but also because of its training system. Developed by CAE and made in Tampa, Florida, the system is integrated with a live, virtual and constructive ground system. “It isn’t just an airplane, which is what the design of the T-X is intended to be,” Lynn said.

He adds that a low-risk offering should be especially important because the air force is juggling so many important programs – from procurement of the F-35 and the KC-46 tanker to development of the B-21 bomber and the nuclear ground-based strategic deterrent. “This would not be a good time for the air force to have things go off the rails in terms of schedule and budget,” Lynn said. “Having a mature, low-risk program is a strength.”

Beyond that, Lynn is touting the company’s potential manufacturing site at Moton Field, Alabama, where the Tuskegee Airmen once trained, as a plus. “We think that is a nice, important connection for the air force,” he said, adding that jobs would also be produced in Florida and Arizona, where Honeywell will make the engine. “The net result would be thousands of American jobs.”