EXCLUSIVE: BAE Systems shows Hawk upgrade to current users

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BAE Systems has demonstrated its proposed package of upgrade options for the Hawk jet trainer to current users. It hopes to gain backing within the next few months to advance the project.

Unveiled during last month's Hawk User Group meeting in Muscat, Oman, the proposals centre on an extensive modernisation to pre-100-series aircraft, and more limited capability enhancements to more recent production examples.

The full package proposed for early-generation, "short-nosed" Hawks includes the overhaul of their analogue cockpits to introduce two multifunction displays and a head-up display. BAE showcased the new configuration with a cockpit demonstrator, and used Dassault Catia modelling to show how new equipment would be installed, adding just 50kg (110lb) to the nose weight of 60-series jets.

Users of 100- and 200-series aircraft can select design elements from South Africa's Hawk 120 and the UK's new Hawk 128, such as hands-on throttle and stick controls, new mission computers and embedded simulation. Customers were given access to a 120-based demonstrator rig using real software supplied by Advanced Technologies & Engineering.

 
© Frans Dely/BAE Systems
South African Air Force Hawk 120

Enhancements are also proposed to the Hawk's Rolls-Royce Turbomeca Adour turbofan engine, aircraft structure, support system and ground-based training equipment, says Michael Christie, BAE's senior vice-president, Hawk International. Modifications must be "quick, simple and cheap", he says, with the company targeting a full upgrade package costing "well under £5 million" ($7.3 million) per aircraft. The work should be conducted largely during a scheduled period of major maintenance.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates could beamong possible takers for upgrades to 60-series Hawks. Christie says that despite the latter's recent selection of the Alenia Aermacchi M-346 advanced jet trainer, BAE "has seen no indication that they'll stop using the Hawk". Upgrading its current aircraft would provide the UAE with a stepped training capability, he adds. The UAE also currently flies Hawks in the Mk 102 configuration.

 
© BAE Systems
United Arab Emirates air force Hawk 102

More recent Hawk customers have shown interest in the Mk 120 aircraft's simulated air-to-air radar and electronic warfare capabilities and colour moving-map display, plus new mission planning and debriefing equipment.

Royal Australian Air Force Hawk 127s already conduct emulated radar training using a datalink, but Gp Capt Al Clements, officer commanding its 78th Wing, believes there is potential to add new capabilities. He cites possible obsolescence issues, and aneed to close the training gap with upgraded Boeing F/A-18s, incoming F/A-18F Super Hornets and Lockheed Martin's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

BAE says the South African cockpit configuration offers a low-risk, "drop-fit" modernisation for 60- and early 100-series aircraft. "What you see today is alive and certified software, and can be delivered in very short order," says company test pilot Nat Makepeace. The first upgrades could be performed within 18 months to two years of signing an agreement.

 
© BAE Systems
An upgraded 60-series Hawk cockpit would feature new multifunction displays

User group meetings are usually held around every 18 months, but Christie wants to stage another event within the next few months to gauge the level of interest from the 11 customer nations that attended the four-day session in Oman. "We will follow up and test whether discussions will turn to requirements. Some customers are seeking knowledge on timescales etc, and some have already put in requests," he says. "We want a critical mass."

But while the Oman meeting highlighted BAE's wide-ranging upgrade proposals, new Hawk sales also remainhigh on its list of priorities.

Referring to a recent lack of orders in the AJT sector, Christie says: "This is a market where you can't maintain continuity. If you don't understand that you will lose a lot of money." Securing upgrade deals would "keep us in the game", he says, while noting that "the competition doesn't have 800 aircraft out there flying".

With new-build orders fiercely contested and slow to advance, Christie says BAE "needs to make something happen this year" on new sales or upgrades to ensure the longevity of the Hawk. "I'm happy I've got two very capable products on the shelf," he says. "I'm quite encouraged by what the air forces want and what we are offering."

Source: MiliCAS; † Attended HUG meeting; * ex-Swiss air force aircraft