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As the UK prepares for a shock divorce from the European Union following its public’s Brexit vote, the implications for the nation’s major aerospace players include much uncertainty – but also potential opportunity.

In the military sector, nowhere is this truer than at BAE Systems. The UK’s largest defence contractor has a hand in the delivery of equipment ranging from the Hawk advanced jet trainer to the Eurofighter Typhoon and Lockheed Martin F-35, plus avionics equipment, land systems, submarines and surface ships up to a pair of Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers which are the largest vessels ever constructed for the Royal Navy.

Orders from Saudi Arabia and Oman are sustaining the Hawk assembly line at BAE’s Warton site in Lancashire, with the first five examples from the former’s combined contracts for 44 having been delivered by mid-June. In collaboration with Hindustan Aeronautics, the company is also promoting the development of an advanced Hawk concept, primarily to meet the operational needs of existing export customer the Indian air force.

While a proposed further development of the Hawk T2 flown by the UK Royal Air Force was ruled out of contention for the US Air Force’s T-X competition, BAE is teamed with Northrop Grumman to draw on the best of its capabilities for a clean-sheet design being offered as a T-38 Talon replacement. It is also using the T2 standard as the baseline for upgrades being performed for other Hawk operators, including Australia and South Africa.

Final assembly of the Typhoon also continues in Warton for the RAF, plus export customers Saudi Arabia and Oman. At current production rates, the plant’s backlog will sustain work through at least 2018, but further sales opportunities are being pursued, including in Indonesia and Malaysia, and for an anticipated repeat buy from Riyadh. If these or other opportunities turn to success, and combined with fleet sustainment and expected mid-life upgrade activities to be undertaken around 2025, the Eurofighter programme looks set to continue keeping BAE busy for many more years to come.

BAE will be using the Farnborough air show to highlight the Typhoon’s evolution from an air-defence specialist into a true swing-role platform; a shift already being proven in combat operations in the Middle East, where the RAF and Royal Saudi Air Force are both employing the type during ground-attack missions.

Experimental test pilot Nat Makepeace will be putting a Typhoon through its paces in a Phase 3 Enhancement configuration, due to enter operational use later this decade. This will involve the aircraft carrying a mixed load of weapons from European supplier MBDA, including four Meteor beyond-visual-range and two Asraam short-range air-to-air missiles and a pair of three-round launchers with Brimstone 2 air-to-surface missiles. The aircraft also will be carrying two of the RAF’s already-operational Raytheon Systems Paveway IV precision-guided bombs.

According to BAE’s Military Air & Information business unit, the display “will demonstrate that Typhoon – even with this weapons fit – loses none of the agility and manoeuvrability for which it is known.”

Steady progress with integrating new weapons onto the Eurofighter; also including MBDA’s Storm Shadow cruise missile, and a first contract ( to equip the type with the Euroradar consortium’s Captor-E active electronically scanned array radar – – show the type as set to enter a new phase in its capability cycle.

BAE also will be showing another update, in the shape of its fully-digital Striker II helmet-mounted display (HMD). Representing a significant advance over the model already in frontline use with Eurofighter customers, this has an integrated night vision sensor, low-voltage power supply and relies on a single camera in the cockpit for head tracking.

An evolution of a system originally developed as an alternative HMD for the F-35, the design is now on a company-funded “12- to 18-month path to operations,” says Paul Harrison, simulation facility manager at BAE’s Rochester avionics plant in Kent. The first part of a Striker II integration campaign began in May, with three test pilots having used the technology during sorties flown from Warton.

But this will also be an important show for BAE, due to the debut Farnborough appearance being made by the F-35. One of Lockheed’s main industrial partners on the Lightning II, BAE manufacturers the aft fuselage and horizontal and vertical tails for each of the programme’s three variants, with the work conducted at its Samlesbury facility in Lancashire.

UK companies including BAE and Qinetiq have particular pride in the short take-off and vertical landing capabilities provided by the F-35B, which will achieve initial operational capability status with the RAF’s 617 Sqn in 2018. In Warton, work has been under way for several years to de-risk the integration of the type with the RN’s future aircraft carriers, with simulation-based activity seeking to perfect its recovery to the 65,000t vessels’ landing decks.

During a pre-show media facility in Warton, journalists were given the opportunity to try their hands at landing the F-35B on the 3.2-acre flight of the HMS Queen Elizabeth, under the instruction of BAE test pilot Pete Kosogorin. More than two years before the combination will meet for the first time in real life, during sea trials off the US East Coast, it is already possible to experience the ease with which the task will be performed in both the vertical landing (STOVL) mode made famous by the BAE-built Harrier, and using a new shipborne rolling vertical landing technique created for the Lockheed type. The latter will allow the STOVL variant to approach the carrier using a 2.5˚ glide slope at around 60-75kt (111-139km/h), returning at a heavier weight than possible using the vertical method.

“There are two alternative means, both equally viable for recovery,” notes BAE’s David Atkinson, who is responsible for the aircraft-ship integration activity. “The operator will choose, depending on the situation.”

By using simulation well in advance of systems like the F-35 becoming operational, BAE aims to reduce the risk of encountering unexpected surprises, and also helps its customers to hone their concepts of operation for employing such advanced equipment. The company will also this month open a new ground training facility on its Warton site, to support customers such as the Royal Air Force of Oman in the run-up to its introduction of the Typhoon, by enabling access to a two-seat simulator. Representing an investment worth £2.5 million ($3.3 million), the facility also will support the developmental testing of future equipment, such as advanced cockpit displays.

Another nearby example is the company’s mission systems integration facility, which has recently been conducting simulation-based work to introduce the Taranis unmanned combat air system demonstrator into operational scenarios.

As UK industry – and potentially its counterparts in France – begins to look beyond products like the Typhoon towards a potential joint future combat air system, BAE is hoping that such investments will be one factor in helping to safeguard its industrial capabilities for the decades to come.

Source: Flight International