With a partnering contract for the UK Military Flying Training System (MFTS) within weeks of being signed amid a deepening defence budget crisis, the manufacturers of two of the UK's in-service types have outlined upgrade proposals which, they claim, would significantly reduce short-term programme costs.
Industry sources expect the Ministry of Defence to sign a deal with the Lockheed Martin UK-led Ascent consortium in early April, with this to combine almost 120 subcontracts.
This will enable the partners to advance efforts to select a simulator provider for the BAE Systems Hawk 128 advanced jet trainer, acquire new aircraft to support Royal Navy observer training, and seek a replacement basic trainer fleet.
The latter requirement could draw offers based on new types, including the Alenia Aermacchi M-311, Hawker Beechcraft T-6B and Pilatus PC-21.
But with cost a major consideration, a team comprising Marshall Aerospace and airframe manufacturer Shorts says it will offer an extensive upgrade to the Royal Air Force's current Tucano T1 fleet, which the companies claim could enable operations to continue for more than 20 years.
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A CMC-sourced glass cockpit and mission computers would provide the core element of the proposed modernisation project, which would also provide 10% more engine power and aerodynamic improvements, says Richard Howman, Marshall's senior business development manager.
Revealing details of the proposal at IQPC's 27-28 February Military Flight Training conference in London, Howman said upgraded Tucanos could be provided for 10-15% of the cost of fielding a new aircraft type, with remaining development and test work requiring about 18 months from the contract award.
The current UK aircraft have an average of 60% of their planned airframe lives to use, he says, which represents about 8,000 flight hours each.
As well as offering the Tucano upgrade as a bridging measure for the UK, the Marshall/Shorts team could also be interested in acquiring surplus examples for potential international buyers.
Fifteen aircraft are currently being offered for sale via the UK Disposal Services Agency, with 40 more held in long-term storage.
Meanwhile, Grob Aerospace is eyeing a potential glass cockpit and propulsion system upgrade to the UK's G115E screening aircraft. VT Aerospace-managed operations of the type are currently set to conclude in 2012.