Rivals ready to battle over MFTS basic trainer

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The UK Ministry of Defence is expected in December to seek expressions of interest from potential suppliers of a new fleet of basic trainers to replace the Royal Air Force's Shorts Tucano T1s.

Likely to cover the procurement of 40-50 aircraft, the project will deliver a pivotal element of the formative UK Military Flying Training System (MFTS). Candidates for the deal include the Alenia Aermacchi M-311, Beechcraft T-6 and Pilatus PC-21 - all of which have previously been flight tested by British military personnel - and a possible life-extension and avionics upgrade to the Tucano being pushed by Shorts and Marshall Aerospace.

"Absolutely no preference" has been expressed by the customer between a turboprop or jet solution, says Ken Cornfield, deputy managing director of the Lockheed Martin UK/VT Ascent consortium, contracted last May as training system partner for the 25-year MFTS programme.

Requirements for the acquisition will be partly informed through a 20,000-page training needs analysis document, which Cornfield says "gives a baseline against which we can go forward to design a syllabus". Worth up to £6 billion ($9.2 billion), the MFTS programme is required to deliver tri-service training across 23 aircrew disciplines.

The MoD in mid-October launched its search for a single- and multi-engine rotary-wing training service to replace its Defence Helicopter Flying School mechanism for a projected 20 years from March 2012. "All three of the armed services have different views on how their people should be trained," says Cornfield.

Ascent meanwhile expects to place a contract with FR Aviation next February to support operations using four Beechcraft King Air 350ER rear crew trainers for the Royal Navy. This had been planned for signature in October, but Cornfield says a "dramatic shift in the valuation of the pound" caused difficulties as the MoD committed funds to securing the aircraft.