Hawk faces uphill task as Singapore starts AJT evaluations

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Singapore has begun evaluating the contenders for its advanced jet trainer competition, with industry sources saying the BAE Systems Hawk 128 faces an uphill task to be included in the shortlist.

The front-runners, Alenia Aermacchi's M346 and Korea Aerospace Industries' T-50, were on display at the Singapore Airshow and have been evaluated by the country's Defence Science and Technology Agency. The Hawk was scheduled to make an appearance, but it was reportedly delayed in the Middle East and BAE flew an aircraft to Singapore afterwards for the trials.

The United Arab Emirates shortlisted the T-50 and the M-346 last year, and the Hawk's elimination prompted observers to say type's dominance in the advanced jet trainer market could be nearing an end. Even Aermacchi and KAI seemed to believe that, with officials training their guns on each other during the show and hardly referring to the Hawk.

Lockheed Martin helped to design and develop the T-50, which is based on the Lockheed Martin F-16, and both companies are jointly marketing it. That could be a plus in Singapore, which is the largest operator of F-16s in South-East Asia. The country is also in the market for the Lockheed Martin F-35, and chose the company as the training systems integrator for its basic wings course using the Pilatus PC-21.

JR Wilridge, Lockheed's T-50 business development director, says the companies offer training that has been proven in South Korea. "The first batch of Republic of Korea Air Force pilots who trained using the T-50 has graduated," he adds. "The number of sorties they needed to achieve an optimum level fell by 20% and the total cost is 30% lower than when using the [Northrop] T-38."

With the M-346 still to enter service, its viability has yet to be proven, say KAI and Lockheed officials.

But Aermacchi is confident. "Singapore is one of the most sophisticated and demanding customers in the world, and we like it because we have the best product," says chief executive Carmelo Cosentino. He says the contest is likely to be determined by cost and efficiency, contending that the single-engined T-50 with an afterburner will use twice as much fuel as the twin-engined M-436. "We have delivered over 2,000 trainers. Our business is trainers. Our experience is a big factor."

As BAE prepares to deliver the UK's first of 28 Hawk 128s in August, it is confident about the type's long-term potential. Possible markets include Europe, Indonesia, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, and a manufacturing joint venture with India's Hindustan Aeronautics also being considered. It also hopes to build fuselages for additional US Navy Boeing T-45 Goshawks beyond a production deal that concludes in mid-2009.

But with no new purchases, the Hawk orderbook will run dry next year. Restarting the lines could increase the costs for customers and that, say observers, could spell the end.