Several European countries are reviewing prospects for advanced training, but politics are beginning to cloud the issue and little progress seems to have been made

At the half-way point in the 12-month feasibility study of the Advanced European Jet Pilot Training (AEJPT) - or Eurotraining - programme, little progress seems to have been made, at least publicly, towards choosing an advanced trainer. Divisions among the 12 nations are also beginning to emerge as countries line up behind their national aerospace champions and others review their options.

The goal of the AEJPT programme is a new training system for 12 European air forces. The aim is to make it better able than the existing system to train pilots who will be flying the next generation of frontline fighters such as the Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and Saab/BAE Systems Gripen. AEJPT will also include groundtraining systems, joint and more appropriate syllabi, and the infrastructure for the training academies. In this area, at least, some progress has been made towards implementing the system.

The air forces of Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and Sweden have set up a common air force working group, AEJPT WG, which described its targets and needs for Eurotraining in a European staff target. They also set up a steering committee, chaired by Germany, and an advisory group, chaired by Finland.

In December 2001 the 12 countries signed an AEJPT memorandum of understanding that assigned Italy as lead nation for the feasibility stage. The Italian defence ministry aerospace acquisition body DGAA acts as executive agency and acting contractor on behalf of the 12 nations.

The €8 million ($9.2 million) feasibility study, the objective of which is to define possible solutions for and life-cycle costs of an AEJPT system to be introduced around 2010, was signed in Rome on 2 December last year by the 12 nations and a temporary industrial grouping.

The "G5" grouping of Aermacchi, Dassault, EADS Casa, EADS Germany and Saab - with Pilatus also involved - has since formed a consortium supported by many other aerospace companies. Saab, for example, will be the lead for work concerning aircraft alternatives and embedded training, while Thales is co-ordinating the simulation subgroup and Turbomeca the propulsion subgroup. Aermacchi is the appointed contracting company within the group.

The completed feasibility study, divided into 15 work packages, is to be submitted at the end of this year. Tomas Karlson, Saab Aerospace Eurotraining project manager, says the study is a "great opportunity for both Saab and Sweden to contribute with its knowledge and know-how in this constellation together with Europe's biggest aerospace industries".

The feasibility study's first technical progress review meeting was held in April at the EADS Military Aircraft facility in Getafe, Spain, attended by 35 industry representatives in addition to the military. EADS says three major topics have been investigated so far: a review of training systems in the participating nations; an analysis of the training needs for future pilots of fourth- and fifth-generation fighters, including a specific outline syllabus for Eurotraining; and system modelling.

"The reaction of the client was very satisfactory," EADS says, "and industry obtained the support to continue on the line taken for this programme." EADS adds that the client raised some "constructive" suggestions. The next review meeting will be held in Munich in September.

Trainer offers

Aermacchi is offering its M346 advanced trainer for the programme. Finmeccanica, which owns the Italian trainer manufacturer, says: "The entire industrial organisation is working closely with the participating air forces, and it is our firm aim to provide the Eurotraining military customer with an efficient and innovative training system, starting in 2010, covering all aspects of flying and ground-based training for the advanced and fighter lead-in phases."

Among the issues still to be resolved, however, is finding somewhere that has the required airspace and climatic conditions suitable for a large military flying training centre. Finland has offered its Kauhava flight academy as an interim solution.

Beyond location, probably the most publicly contested issue to be resolved is the choice of advanced trainer, the requirement for which is likely to be substantial- around 150 aircraft. There is a potential conflict of interests between the industrial partners and, in at least one case, the viability of a new aircraft programme with substantial export opportunities will hinge on selection within Eurotraining.

So far at least six types have been proposed as viable. EADS's Mako and Aermacchi's M346 head the pack as new-generation trainers designed to approach the performance capabilities of the latest fighters, boasting high angle-of-attack manoeuvrability and good turning performance.

Both fit the bill of being European designed and manufactured. Although these two are undoubtedly the favoured types, other aircraft that match the criteria include the BAE Systems Hawk 128, Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI)/Lockheed Martin T-50 Golden Eagle, a new design from Saab and even a revised Gripen with limited performance.

A new design would probably be financially unjustifiable. The Hawk's chances may suffer from the UK's non-participation in Eurotraining, while even the most convoluted supplier analysis could never label the T-50 as European.

Aermacchi and EADS say their aircraft meet all the Eurotraining preliminary requirements and both aircraft are scheduled to be in service in time for the 2010 target date. The M346 should have the benefit of three years' proven service by that time - three years more than the Mako.

The selection process is already turning into a political football, however, with the first signs of national preferences and rivalries emerging. As a result G5 member Dassault is proposing to upgrade France's 125 Dassault-Dornier Alpha Jets.

The M346's development is being funded by the Italian government, which describes the Aermacchi aircraft as its platform of choice. Meanwhile, France, Germany and Spain - EADS's home nations - are showing a strong interest in the Mako as their preferred platform.

At the other end of the scale, Sweden has evaluated the M346, Mako and T-50, but says none meet its future requirements.

Of the two favourites, only the M346 has been rolled out, running on a development programme three years ahead of the proposed Mako. Aermacchi rolled out the first M346 prototype from its Venegono, Italy, factory last month, and is aiming for a first flight by the end of this year. The design is a follow-on from Aermacchi's technology demonstration programme with Russia's Yakovlev, the Yak/AEM-130, which flew in 1996.

Aermacchi says the aircraft's Mach 1.2 maximum speed, high thrust-to-weight ratio and high agility are key to enabling the aircraft to meet the Eurotrainer requirements as set out in the preliminary stage, without adding costs by including additional capability for other roles.

"We've tailored the aircraft for the advanced flight training role, with light combat aircraft [LCA] capability very much a secondary concern," says Aermacchi. "This makes the M346 a much cheaper aircraft to buy and operate than, say, a trainer/LCA platform with M1.5-1.6 capability designed in." High reliability and low maintenance costs are also central to the design, which features a quadruplex fly-by-wire flight-control system and twin engine configuration for safety.

EADS's single-engined Mako HEAT (High Energy Advanced Trainer) offering will not fly until 2009, one year before a potential Eurotraining start.

The fate of the combined advanced trainer and LCA is far from secure, however, with the programme in jeopardy without the backing of a Eurotraining order. EADS is confident of its prospects, however, even if it does not win the Eurotraining feasibility study. "Maybe not all countries will follow the chosen AEJPT concept," says EADS, adding: "With a home [EADS nation] customer, we will go for it." The manufacturer is keen to launch the project, as it has projected a market for 1,350-1,500 advanced trainers and LCAs by 2018. EADS would hope to sell 450 to 500 Makos in this market, one third of which would be HEATs.

Unlike Aermacchi's offering, the Mako is from the outset designed to perform the dual role of advanced trainer and LCA. EADS says the concept of the Mako HEAT and LCA variants forming part of the same family will capitalise on the "train as you fight" philosophy, giving students experience of flying a real combat aircraft before sitting in a frontline aircraft's cockpit.

EADS admits that the Mako's acquisition cost would be around 15% higher than that of a dedicated subsonic/transonic trainer, but also says the costs would eventually be recouped as pilots would require fewer subsequent operational conversion unit (OCU) training hours. "Engine operational costs are reduced 33% due to the de-rating, for example, and the acquisition cost can be recovered in as few as six pilots," says EADS.

Overall the manufacturer claims that total advanced training costs can be reduced by 25-30% compared to a transonic trainer, saying that OCU training hours cost six to nine times that of Mako.

The Mako would use afterburning on its single engine to allow it to achieve M1.5 in the LCA configuration, although the engines would be de-rated to 16,850lb thrust (75kN) for the HEAT aircraft, providing a long life cycle and low maintenance costs.

The manufacturer earlier this year selected a Europeanised General Electric F414M turbofan as the Mako's preferred powerplant, having previously considered the Eurofighter's Eurojet EJ200 and the Rafale's Snecma M88. GE would give Volvo Aero up to 30% of the F414M's revenue stream in return for development, production and assembly work to "Europeanise" the engine.

Whether it wins the Eurotraining vote of confidence fully, partially, or not at all, time is all-important for the Mako. EADS says it must launch "by mid-next year" to meet its Mako HEAT schedule.

Performance measures

The M1.5 performance of the KAI/ Lockheed Martin T-50, together with its afterburning engines and combat capabilities, put the aircraft in a similar class to the Mako, but it would be a surprise choice for any Eurotraining selection given its relative lack of European involvement.

Along with its stablemate, the A-50 attack variant, the T-50 has been in development by the South Korean and US manufacturers since the early 1990s. The South Korean air force has ordered 50 trainer and 44 combat versions, with its eventual requirement expected to be at least double this.

The Hawk, meanwhile, is enjoying success in its latest 120-series incarnation, which has been in service with Australia since 2000 and is due to join South Africa's air force in 2004. Although the UK's non-participation in Eurotraining has undoubtedly dealt the aircraft's prospects a blow, countries that are considering the idea of leaving the programme because of more urgent short-term requirements may turn to the Hawk as an available alternative.

Finland was linked with an alternative Hawk purchase as recently as last month and may follow in the footsteps of Denmark, Ireland, Norway, Turkey and the UK in withdrawing from the AEJPT. Finland has been linked with NATO Flying Training in Canada where it already has an instructor.

Saab, which is contributing about SKr11 million ($1.4 million) to the feasibility study, has been working since 2000 on the "518", a light, high-subsonic trainer aircraft. and has constructed a windtunnel model, first tested in November 2001.

In a similar programme, a propulsion feasibility team comprising eight European engine specialists has been formed to investigate the development of new engines in the 6,000-8,000lb-thrust range for use on such a new trainer, although the costs associated with such an investment are likely to be prohibitive.

Whatever hurdles must be overcome, the AEJTP has the potential to become the next example of European air power co-operation, following the now in-service Eurofighter and recently launched Airbus Military A400M.

Like those programmes, however, political wrangling can be expected up until the moment a deal is struck, and in the end the aircraft selection, as well as other aspects of the programme, may well have to be a compromise to keep all on board.

Source: Flight International