The first students to be placed via a NATO Flight Training Europe (NFTE) initiative will begin receiving instruction later this year, after a multinational agreement was reached on 25 March.

Now involving Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Spain, Turkey and the UK, the NFTE scheme will enable nations to use capacity in partner countries.

Around 50 student pilots will be allocated to training facilities at four locations as the system begins delivering services from October 2024, according to its co-ordinating body, the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA).


Source: Leonardo

Multiple nations already use the M-346 jet trainer via Italian-delivered IFTS system

The nations’ agreement also triggered a declaration of initial operational capability for the programme’s implementation phase. A catalogue of available training is now being prepared, and a dedicated industry advisory body has been established to assess future needs.

Crucially, the NFTE provision relies on the use of existing aircraft, bases and other infrastructure. It is intended to rapidly address a combined projected shortfall of hundreds of training spaces through the rest of this decade, by increasing co-ordination between allies. Key shortfalls exist in nations’ ability to prepare sufficient new pilots to fly combat aircraft and helicopters, according to an NSPA study.

“NFTE aims to fundamentally change the way allies train the full range of aircrews, including pilots for jets, helicopters, and remotely piloted air systems,” the NSPA says. Its goal is for a full spectrum of services to be available via the scheme from 2027.

The concept emerged at NATO headquarters late last decade, and has advanced rapidly since an initial 10-nation group signed a memorandum of understanding in June 2021.

“We can start to use this framework to implement bilateral training in a fraction of the time that it has taken before,” says Jas Hawker, the NSPA’s NFTE principal officer, aviation support programme.

“We are looking to create synergies so that the future supply equals the future demand,” he told Defence iQ’s Military Flight Training conference in London on 26 March.

As a result of the multinational arrangement there are now 14 declared training campuses around Europe that will support the effort. A dozen disclosed sites include six in the UK – at Barkston Heath, Culdrose, Middle Wallop, Shawbury, Valley and Waddington – along with sites in the Czech Republic (Pardubice), Greece (Kalamata), Hungary (Kecskemet), Italy (Decimomannu), North Macedonia (Skopje) and Turkey (Izmir).

“The rapid growth of NFTE has attracted interest around the alliance, with several allies expected to join in the first half of 2024,” the NSPA says. The scheme currently has five nations holding observer status: Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia and Sweden.

“This important multinational effort will help us to break down national silos towards a shared approach to training the next generations of aircrews,” says NATO deputy secretary general Mircea Geoana.

The NSPA’s goal is to eventually broaden the initiative to enable cooperation between all 32 NATO member nations. It also expects the framework to expand from the traditional Phase I (elementary) through Phase IV (advanced jet) pipeline to also encompass activities such as adversary or “red air” training services.

Among the identified NFTE campuses, Italy’s International Flight Training School (IFTS) at Decimomannu air base in Sardinia is already experiencing high demand.

Established by the Italian air force with industry partner Leonardo, the IFTS currently provides fast jet training to more than 80 students per year, using a fleet of 22 Leonardo M-346 aircraft and ground-based training equipment developed with CAE.

The current fleet delivers 8,000 flight hours per year, with nine customer nations having students at the school: Austria, Canada, Germany, Japan, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and the UK.

Sweden also is to send its first personnel to the Decimomannu site under a 10-year agreement signed last December covering advanced and lead-in fighter training activities.

The Swedish air force will around mid-year retire the last of its veteran Saab 105 trainers, with the locally named Sk60 to leave use after almost 60 years of service. Stockholm’s trainee pilots will continue to receive elementary and basic training in Sweden using its fleet of Grob Aircraft G120TP turboprops.

The IFTS also is to support the instruction of students from Belgium and Hungary, with the Italian air force and Leonardo aiming to increase throughput to 100 students per year. Canada also is to boost its use of the system, having earlier this year retired its last BAE Systems Hawk 115 trainers.