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What's Up With Textron's New "Econobox" Fighter Jet?

In a world dominated by $100 million military airplanes, "affordability" is the new frontier.

For much of 2011, all of 2012, and the early part of 2013 as well, America's Beechcraft and Brazilian planemaker Embraer (NYSE: ERJ  ) fought a running battle for the right to build 20 low-end fighter planes for the Afghan Air Force -- despite the fact that the planes cost just a few million dollars apiece.

That contest finally ended this year, with Embraer winning the contract. No sooner did that saga end, though, than just this month, another major military contractor -- Textron (NYSE: TXT  ) this time, best known for building armored vehicles, attack helicopters, and (with Boeing (NYSE: BA  ) ) the tiltrotor V-22 Osprey -- is working up a new econobox fighter jet of its own.

Textron's plane, dubbed the Textron AirLand "Scorpion," could serve as both an ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) vehicle, and also undertake ground attack and air-to-air missions. Powered by twin turbofan engines beneath a 47-foot wingspan, the Scorpion will be able to fly at more than two-thirds the speed of sound (450 knots), and at altitudes up to 45,000 feet. It could carry 3,000 lbs. worth of ordnance in an internal weapons bay, plus additional weapons mounted on its wings.

At yet, for all the technical details that Textron has revealed about its new plane, the company's been very coy about one thing: The price.

Based on the little information available, and some number crunching on similar warplanes, here is a little slideshow that I've put together, showing where Scorpion might place on the scale of international fighter planes, and how much they cost. Take a look, then tune back in below to see how I arrive at the comparison.

What we know
Textron says Scorpion will cost about $3,000 per flight hour to operate. The price of the plane itself, the company says, will be "multiple times lower [to buy and fly] than most of the best-known, modern twin-jet strike aircraft." But what does this mean?

For now, Textron is making us guess -- but we can at least educate our guesses. According to the Comptroller of the Department of Defense , it costs about $18,000 an hour to fly an Air Force F-15 or F-22 fighter jet. That's about six times the projected flying cost of the Scorpion. If we assume the cost to buy a Scorpion will be a similar fraction of the price of a modern fighter jet, this implies a sales price of roughly $17 million to perhaps $25 million  for the Scorpion.

As I think you'll agree, Textron appears to be underpricing its competition significantly here in the U.S. -- and maybe even giving its international rivals a run for their money.

Read/Post Comments (4) | Recommend This Article (4)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On October 05, 2013, at 12:03 PM, prginww wrote:

    Given Sequestration and looming deficit issues, one can only hope the DoD will begin employing a/c such as the Scorpion in foreign conflicts that involve no opposing air forces. The USAF & ANG could use this a/c in substantial numbers. Of course, the Scorpion would also make an excellent replacement as the AF retires the T-38in years ahead. Almost too true to ever happen.

  • Report this Comment On October 19, 2013, at 6:31 PM, prginww wrote:

    Sadly the Scorpion will have to train pilots on the F35 and that will be specialist. America will be looking to either the UK, Korea or Italy for the replacement for the T38.

    The jets will be made in the USA but will be foreign designed and with major input. The UK's option will be cheapest, the Korean the dearest and the Italian the mid price.

    Expect extensive lobbying and the USA to make the worst decision.

  • Report this Comment On October 19, 2013, at 11:52 PM, prginww wrote:

    So you can outrun it and fly over top of it with your Falcon 50? Wow. Also, Textron is probably more widely known for Lycoming engines and Cessna (whose Citation X super mid-sized bizjet has a cruising speed of 527ktas, a cruising altitude of 51,000 and costs about $20M - $25M). Anyone ever heard of them? You may have a Textron lawn mower in your shed. How about Bell Helicopters? Back to the Scorpion; it looks like they dropped a cockpit into a target drone. They'd be better buying used Citation Vs for about $1.5M and painting them grey and attaching hardpoints to the bottom of the wings.

  • Report this Comment On October 20, 2013, at 12:02 AM, prginww wrote:

    Joking, of course, in regards to the used Citations. Obviously you can't put them into high angles of attack with the engines' intake nacelles above and behind the wing, you would break the airplane in high G manouvers and the passengers would spill their drinks and probably vomit all over the cabin.

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