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Military trainers: Games without frontiers as nations come together

Not all nations have the financial ability to acquire and operate their own fleets of primary, basic, advanced and lead-in fighter trainers, plus training helicopters and multi-engined platforms. This reality has opened the door to innovative contracting arrangements with industry or participation in multinational training systems now available in abundance in the Western world.

One of the largest such latter systems now in existence is the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training (ENJJPT) scheme, which has been delivering services at Sheppard AFB in Texas since the signature of a memorandum of understanding in 1981. Initially envisaged as a 10-year initiative to lead to the creation of a similar set-up in mainland Europe, ENJJPT is alive and well and currently contracted to operate until at least September 2016.

© Craig Hoyle   
Canada's NFTC operates 24 T-6As (above) while 13 nations can fly T-38s with the ENJJPT (below)

Backed by 13 signatory nations - not all of which currently send students to train on the system - and soon to be joined by participation from an undisclosed recent NATO entrant, ENJJPT is described as a multinational system with US participation, rather than a buy-in to US Air Force training. The school is currently undergoing a reorganisation which will provide more contemporary instruction and a fairer cost structure for partner nations. "If we don't improve, our competitors will," says an ENJJPT source. Other enhancements to be introduced by 2008 include an avionics upgrade to the school's supersonic Northrop T-38 Talons - over 124 of which will be brought up to the enhanced T-38C standard by August 2007 - and use of the Raytheon T-6A Texan II 69 of which will be introduced from 2008 to replace the school's current Cessna T-37 platforms.

The US Navy, meanwhile, offers international partners use of its pilot training system, with students from nations including Brazil, France, India, Italy and Spain currently using its Boeing T-45A/C Goshawk carrier trainers.

Set up by the Canadian Forces in partnership with prime contractor Bombardier, the NATO Flying Training in Canada (NFTC) scheme is now in its seventh year of operation. The air force says use of the system's 24 T-6A Harvard IIs and 18 BAE Systems Hawk 115s have removed 20 flight hours from the operational training unit course for each of its Boeing F/A-18A/B pilots, with its training fleet having amassed a combined 130,000h by late last year.

Launch partner Denmark recently announced its intention to halt training activities at NFTC on financial grounds, although discussions are believed to be continuing on its potential continued involvement beyond 2011. The school's final student from the United Arab Emirates also graduated last year, but new partners are expected to begin using the system shortly, including two undisclosed Hawk operators. In September, Greece sent its first pilots to use the system's T-6As, an arrangement that could also expand this year.

The current development of the Canada Wings system, delivered by the Allied Wings consortium, will also offer access to other nations to perform training for crews of transport aircraft and helicopters. The industry-supported system will eventually comprise nine Grob G120A primary trainers, seven Bell 206 and nine Bell 412 helicopters, nine Raytheon King Air C90B multi-engine trainers and use of the Canadian Forces' Bombardier Dash 8 navigation trainers. Helicopter pilots from potential overseas users are being offered training in specialist areas such as night vision goggle use, mountain operations and search-and-rescue techniques.

A European Staff Requirement for the Eurotraining - or Advanced European Jet Pilot Training (AEJPT) - programme was agreed last June and a memorandum of understanding to advance the scheme into its pre-contract phase is close to being signed by nine nations- following a procedural delay encountered in late January. The programme - originally conceived with the support of 17 nations - has lost the participation of Germany and Switzerland within the last year, with EADS's Mako high energy advanced trainer design having been rejected as a candidate airframe and Switzerland having placed a domestic order for six Pilatus PC-21s to bridge the gap to its F/A-18C/D fighters.

Alenia Aermacchi's M-346 is considered the lead candidate for the Eurotraining system, although a basic trainer could also be acquired during the programme's future development and production phase. The programme's senior steering committee member, Austrian air force Col Wolfgang Luttenberger, believes the system could be established using two or three sites around Europe, with eight bases still in contention. Portugal's Beja airbase has been assessed as the only facility capable of meeting all system requirements, he says.

The Italian air force - which is currently acquiring new and upgraded MB-339CD trainers from Alenia Aermacchi as an interim measure, views the Eurotraining initiative as its' "number one priority", says Col Luigi del Bene from the service's plans and policy division. "There won't be a state of the art future training system without collaboration," he says.

Other interim solutions on offer to plug the potentially decade-long gap until the operational availability of the multinational Eurotraining system include taking slots at a joint French/Belgian school which commenced operations with the Dassault-Breguet AlphaJet in January 2006 and is expected to continue operations until at least 2018. The Spanish air force and industry partner EADS are meanwhile offering access to upgraded Northrop F-5Ms at Talavera airbase.

A potential rival to Eurotraining could come in the form of the UK Military Flying Training System, with this to offer third-party use on platforms including 28 new Hawk 128s once the multi-tiered system has achieved full operational capability around 2012. The UK now provides Hawk T1/1A training to the Indian air force, and is expected to help the Royal Saudi Air Force prepare for operations with the Eurofighter Typhoon.

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