One clandestine sighting of the Model 400 was as close as Northrop Grumman got to being in the T-X competition.
The corporation had said nothing about its ‘clean-sheet’ aircraft until January 26, 2017, when, asked if Northrop Grumman would bid on T-X, CEO Wes Bush said that no decision has been made either way, despite the substantial investment in a flying prototype. ‘We don’t want to walk ourselves into a decision to do something just because we’ve been doing it,’ Bush said.
Then, dramatically, on February 1, the company said it wasn’t going to submit a bid for the competition. Northrop Grumman is out.
The US manufacturer had been expected to offer its single-engine ‘clean-sheet’ Model 400 aircraft. A prototype, built by its Scaled Composites subsidiary, was first spotted while conducting ground taxi tests at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California during August. The prototype, which also features a single F404 turbofan, reportedly flew for the first time at Mojave on August 24.
Following Raytheon’s January T-X exit, Northrop Grumman took partners BAE Systems, L-3 and Scaled Composites out of the program in February. In a statement it said: ‘Northrop Grumman and its principal teammate BAE Systems have carefully examined the US Air Force’s T-X Trainer requirements and acquisition strategy as stated in the final request for proposals issued on December 30, 2016. The companies have decided not to submit a proposal for the T-X Trainer program, as it would not be in the best interest of the companies and their shareholders.’
Northrop Grumman appears to have fallen foul of a competition that has moved and evolved fast. What initially looked like a low-cost competition that favored an off-the-shelf, low-risk solution, evolved into a high-end requirement — the competitors fell in behind Boeing for a ‘clean-sheet’ aircraft that met all the objectives.
Now, as the Trump administration flexes its muscles, industry is looking at a price war, whilst still meeting those high-end ambitions.
In the end, it has proved just too risky for Northrop Grumman. It has to cut its losses and walk away.