Could the UK's Hawk T2 form the basis for a future successor for France's Dassault Breguet Alpha Jet trainers? That's the question that BAE Systems is asking, by exhibiting the new-generation type at Le Bourget.
The aircraft on show is one of 28 produced for the Royal Air Force under the UK Military Flying Training System programme, and is accompanied by pilots from the service's 4 Sqn, based at Valley in north Wales. The first four students to complete an 11-month course on the type graduated on 12 June, having completed around 120 live flying hours, plus a similar number using synthetic training devices.
BAE during 2012 secured its first two international customers for the model, receiving orders for a combined 30 from Oman and Saudi Arabia. Australia, meanwhile, also approved a programme to upgrade its in-service Hawk 127s to the same standard.
With work now under way on Riyadh's first of 22 aircraft, BAE is eyeing further export opportunities, which it hopes will extend production beyond late this decade.
Combined with the eight-unit order for Oman, the current business will secure the assembly line at the company's Warton site in Lancashire, north-west England, through at least 2017, says Archie Neill, business development director for BAE's defence information, training and services unit.
Poland provides the first potential opportunity to extend this, with the company in early June having submitted a response to an interim request for proposals for an advanced jet trainer system requirement. BAE withdrew from a previous competition, which sought a radar-equipped trainer capable of providing back-up combat cover for the Polish air force's Lockheed Martin F-16s, but this was shelved on cost grounds.
"The key questions are the economics, and what is the training need," Neill says. "The need is to train pilots as cost-effectively as possible to go and fly the F-16." Warsaw should reach a decision before year-end, with eight aircraft and associated synthetic training equipment being sought. Alenia Aermacchi and Lockheed Martin UK are also in contention, respectively offering solutions using the M-346 and Korea Aerospace Industries/Lockheed T-50.
BAE is still talking to India's air force about a potential 20-aircraft deal to re-equip the service's Surya Kiran aerobatic display team, and success on either front would see BAE pass 1,000 Hawks sold. "We have had 18 customers, and over three million flying hours," Neill says. "Hawk is extremely exportable. It's got the handling, and fourth- and fifth-generation training capabilities embedded."
With Europe's multinational Eurotraining scheme having failed to gain traction, BAE believes nations including France, Germany, Sweden and Turkey will have jet trainer replacement needs over the coming years. The Rolls-Royce/Turbomeca Adour-engined T2 already features around 20% French content by value, and the nation's air force currently has an instructor pilot on exchange with the RAF's 4 Sqn.
BAE is also teamed with Northrop Grumman in anticipation of a T-X programme competition to replace the US Air Force's Northrop T-38C Talons. While the service has repeatedly delayed launching the process, Neill says: "It's a question of when, not if."
Following a production gap of five years, structures for the first two of 22 Saudi aircraft are now on the line at Warton. This will be capable of delivering up to 18 per year, with jigs having been removed from long-term storage and transferred from Brough in east Yorkshire, where previous Hawks were completed.
The forward fuselage section for lead aircraft ST-1 was joined up on 23 May, with its fuselage "cigar" to come together at the end of 2013. Its wings will be installed by mid-2014, before being transferred for flight-testing. Deliveries will start in 2015.
"We started talking about a year ago about a Hawk renaissance," Neill says. "There are many broad opportunities for us, whether that's setting up capability in another country, or offsetting. It's a very real prospect to go well beyond 1,000 aircraft."
Check out the latest news and views from this year's Paris air show, including: