The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) is starting to assess its pilot training needs regarding the future Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP), having determined that its current BAE Systems Hawk T2s will not be suitable for the task.

A 28-strong fleet of Hawk T2s currently delivers advanced jet training in support of the RAF’s Eurofighter Typhoon and Lockheed Martin F-35B fleets.

“It was always planned to go out of service around the end of the next decade, and we’re pretty clear that it won’t meet the requirements for a Global Combat Air Programme solution,” chief of the air staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Knighton says of the current type.

“As a consequence, we need to plan now and start a programme for the replacement of Hawk as an advanced jet trainer,” he told the House of Commons Defence Committee on 21 February.

Hawk T2 noses

Source: BAE Systems

RAF currently has a 28-strong fleet of Hawk T2 advanced jet trainers

An ongoing analysis is looking at the service’s training system requirements, he adds.

“One potential opportunity that we’re exploring is how we might use an aircraft that was principally bought and developed for training also to provide surrogate training for the in-service GCAP. The UK, along with Italy and Japan, is working to develop a sixth-generation manned fighter named Tempest.

“Instead of flying the all-up combat aircraft every day, for some of the missions you could get all of the training that you needed through a surrogate platform,” Knighton says. “The benefits are it’s cheaper to fly and operate, [and] it doesn’t give away your tactics or some of the electromagnetic emissions from the [GCAP] aircraft.”

Knighton also believes such a platform could be used to deliver so-called Red Air adversary training services in support of frontline squadrons.

“By thinking about the breadth of that requirement, that enables us to think through whether there might be a single solution,” he says, highlighting the modular aircraft concept being advanced by UK developer Aeralis as an example of such a future capability.

“The [Aeralis] team’s model of a modular system that would enable you to deliver capability for a number of different scenarios is something that we’re very interested in,” he says.

Aeralis jets

Source: Aeralis

UK developer Aeralis is promoting its modular aircraft concept for a variety of roles

Bristol-headquartered start-up Aeralis has already received interest and funding support from the RAF’s Rapid Capabilities Office as it matures its modular aircraft concept. The company late last year outlined its plan to fly a test vehicle, named Phoenix, and believes an operational system could be available from around the end of this decade.

“What I’d like to do is bring that capability investigation to a conclusion before we get into the next spending review and defence review, because that would be the point at which we would need to establish a programme,” Knighton says.

“Right now, there is no money set aside in the defence budget for a replacement for Hawk,” he notes. “We will need to have our evidence gathered and developed, for us to be in a position to make a case for investment. The wider [applications] that that capability can support, the better.

“I’m quite confident that we’ll get to the position where we can lay that out and initiate a programme,” he says.

Tempest GCAP pair

Source: BAE Systems

Using a ‘surrogate’ trainer platform could enable the RAF to optimise the use of its sixth-generation Tempest fighter

Meanwhile, Knighton says the Adour engine reliability issues that have dogged operations with the Hawk T2 fleet since earlier this decade are likely to continue for the “next few years”.

“We still have problems with engine availability. That constrains aircraft availability, which limits the number of pilots that we can put through the [training] system.

“I’m expecting for the next few years for us to continue to need to put pilots through international systems like the NATO system in the USA and Italy,” he says. “We continue to drive Rolls-Royce and Safran, who are responsible for the components that have failed, and BAE Systems hard to improve the output.”

The Hawk T2’s official out-of-service date is scheduled during 2040.