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Lockheed Martin, along with Korea Aerospace Industries, has entered its T-50A fighter jet into the U.S. Air Force's Advanced Pilot Training competition.
Commonly known as the T-X Trainer competition, the contest pits major defense companies against one other in a battle for a $16 billion government contract.
CNBC got inside access to the T-50A and took it to the skies. Here's a look.
The competition represents one of the biggest defense contracts of the decade — a $16.3 billion program for 350 jet trainers. It's expected to be awarded this year.
These types of programs will be a big part of President Donald Trump's plans to "rebuild" the military. The winner of the T-X trainer competition will see their fighter jets replace the T-38 Talons that have flown since the 1960s.
Lockheed's T-50A is an upgraded version of the T-50 Golden Eagle, which currently trains pilots in South Korea and other countries. If it wins the contract, the company says it could begin production immediately.
Mike Griswold, Lockheed Martin's head of T-50A business development, says the company can deliver the aircraft by 2022 — at least two years before the Air Force's schedule. It has already done the basic design, development and test work.
But Lockheed isn't alone. While it's unclear exactly how many companies are submitting proposals, Boeing and Saab, along with Italian contractor Leonardo and its subsidiary DRS Technologies, are in the running. Boeing built a brand new plane just for this contract, spending an estimated $1 billion to $3 billion, according to analysts. Leonardo's T-100 already trains F-35 pilots in Israel and Italy.
For now, contenders are busy racking up flight hours in a faceoff that could, over the coming months, prove to be a wild ride.