Articles

The US Air Force may make history and buy this ridiculously cheap jet

Years after initial development, Lockheed Martin's F-35 Lightning II finally seems like it's well on its way to enter the US's fleet of fighter jets. That doesn't necessarily mean, however, that the DoD isn't seeking alternative jets to supplement their squadrons.


According to Defense News, the US Air Force announced that it would begin testing aircraft that were not currently planned to be in its inventory. After signing a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with Textron AirLand, the Air Force will begin a series of tests to determine if Textron AirLand's flagship jet, dubbed "Scorpion", will be airworthy.

Textron AirLand's Armed Scorpion | Photo courtesy of Textron AirLand

"This is the first of its kind, we have not done a CRADA like this before and we have never had a partnership with industry to assess aircraft that are not under a USAF acquisition contract," an Air Force representative explained in a statement from Defense News.

The Scorpion is a different beast compared to the other jets around the globe. Starting with its cost, Textron AirLand's President Bill Anderson explained in a Bloomberg video, "The Scorpion ... was designed to be very effective and very affordable."

Photo courtesy of Textron AirLand

"The goal was to create a very mission-relevant aircraft for today's security environment that's below $20 million in acquisition costs, and below $3,000 an hour to operate."

By comparison, a Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) costs about $13 million and $1,500 per hour to operate, while the conventional F-35A costs $98 million per unit and $42,200 an hour in 2015.

The Scorpion features a tandem cockpit and a composite airframe in order to keep its weight and costs down. In addition to its twin turbofan engines that are able to achieve a flight speed up to 517 mph, it houses an internal payload bay that's capable of holding 3,000 pounds.

"It's quite maneuverable," explained Scorpion test pilot Andy Vaughan. "It reminds me of my days when I used to fly the A-10 in the US Air Force."

Courtesy of Textron AirLand

From start to finish, the construction of the Scorpion was kept secret to maintain a competitive advantage. Nevertheless, the secret wasn't kept very long — Textron AirLand was able to conduct testing soon after the aircraft's conception.

"In a classic DoD acquisition program, they can spend up to 10 years just developing and fielding an aircraft — and we've done it in less than 2," Anderson said.

However, it's still too early to determine whether this move by the Air Force will also move the sale of Scorpion units both in the US and abroad — according to Defense News, the program has attracted only one potential customer.

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