DaimlerChrysler Aerospace (Dasa)is reviewing its participation in the Mako advanced trainer/light combat aircraft programme after objections were raised to its involvement by British Aerospace.
BAe was concerned by a memorandum of understanding signed at the Seoul Air Show in South Korea at the end of October, which established a partnership with Hyundai to proceed with development of the aircraft, say sources close to the programme.
The programme review has been triggered by fears of upsetting ongoing merger talks between Dasa and the UK manufacturer, which are expected to yield an agreement early in 1999.
Dasa has also been promoting the Mako concept in Sweden and the UK, in an apparent attempt to draw Saab - now 35% owned by BAe - and BAe itself into the programme. The UK manufacturer, however, shows no sign of jumping aboard a programme which has been competing against the BAe Hawk and the Saab/BAe Gripen in South Africa.
Although the Mako failed to be shortlisted, Dasa has maintained contact with South African industry in its search for industrial partners. The Hawk and the Gripen have been shortlisted for the 24-aircraft lead-in fighter trainer requirement and the 38-unit fighter requirement, respectively.
BAe is reluctant to undermine the Hawk's marketability as a jet trainer, counting on achieving steady sales of the aircraft "well into the next century".
Although BAe officials confirm the company is looking at potential successor programmes to the Hawk, it remains reluctant to talk about what it says are "very generic concepts".
Programme sources confirm that "very early discussions" have taken place on derating the two-seat JAS 39B Gripen to allow it to be marketed as an advanced trainer in the class of the Mako. "Why develop the Mako? Why not use the two-seat Gripen? That would be an ideal discussion point for co-operation between Dasa, Saab and British Aerospace," says one Swedish industry source.
The view from the UK and Sweden is that developing the Gripen would save development costs as the competing aircraft are similar in size and performance.
Saab itself declines to comment on the concept, saying "The focus has to be on restructuring the [European] industry rather than on new programmes."
Dasa's efforts to build an international partnership notwithstanding, the Mako programme will not proceed into the development phase without a customer. Germany has no new trainer requirement until beyond 2010, South Korea has committed to the rival Samsung/Lockheed Martin KTX-2, while Sweden has re-engined its SK 60 fleet to keep it in service for at least another 10 years.
Source: Flight International