BAE Systems is hoping to sell the latest version of its Hawk jet trainer to the RAF to plug a 'training gap' it believes the RAF will face during the next decade.

The introduction of the all-digital, glass-cockpit Eurofighter will render the RAF's existing Hawk T Mk 1s obsolete, while these aircraft are also nearing the end of their fatigue lives, after more than 25 years of hard use.

An MoD Systems Requirement Document identified a need for an aircraft which could teach pilots the handling, systems and information management and role-specific skills they will require for the next generation of fighters, exemplified by the Eurofighter and Joint Strike Fighter.

A version of BAE's third-generation Lead In Fighter Trainer (LIFT Hawk) would be almost completely compliant with this requirement. BAE has launched development of the Hawk 128 as a company-funded development programme, building on work on the RAAF Hawk 127 and the South African Hawk 129.

Although the aircraft lacks ground mapping radar (or any means of emulating this) and does not have the supersonic performance or acceleration performance of the new fighters, it does have a cockpit which is representative of the next-generation frontline fighters, as well as an open-architecture, commercial-off-the-shelf mission computer which will facilitate upgrading the aircraft to meet developing requirements.

And although the aircraft is not fitted with radar or electronic warfare equipment, it does have sophisticated emulators which will allow the student pilot to learn to operate and exploit such systems.

Though it still looks like a Hawk, the 128 is in many respects a new aircraft, with a new wing, forward and centre fuselage, fin and tailplane, and with a powered rudder, a yaw damper, and nosewheel steering. The aircraft will take full advantage of lean manufacturing techniques, and will have only 10% commonality with the existing first generation aircraft. The Hawk 128 also has four times the fatigue life of the original aircraft, and will use a Health and Usage Monitoring System (HUMS) to ensure better fleet management and lower life cycle costs.

The first Hawk 128 is 'in build' and its fuselage is 65% complete. In March 2003 BAE submitted a costed, non-competitive proposal to meet an anticipated AJT (Advanced Jet Trainer) requirement. This would then form part of the wider MFTS requirement, effectively tying the winning contender to using this BAE training package to cover the fast jet advanced training part of the requirement.

The company's bid is understood to offer a total training solution, under which the RAF will supply only fuel and instructors (who will be converted to the new aircraft by BAE). BAE will provide 11,076 flying hours per year (with a possibility of extending this to 16,000 hours, to replace the old Hawks which might otherwise be retained to undertake the initial phase of advanced flying training and instructor training) on a 'power by the hour' basis. The company has identified a requirement for about 31 aircraft to meet the 11,076 hour requirement, or for up to 45 aircraft to replace all current RAF Hawks.

There have been press reports that the Treasury has blocked BAE's proposal, on value for money and competition grounds. A BAE source suggested some elements within the Treasury may have been badly briefed and might have expressed misgivings, and that the Government was concerned about costs, but that the company still expected an announcement by the end of June.

Source: Flight Daily News