Douglas Barrie/LONDON

The Royal Air Force is on the brink of approving a return-to-works programme for over half of its British Aerospace Hawk T1/1A advanced trainers.

The project, estimated to cost more than £100 million ($162 million), will see the aircraft's rear and centre fuselage sections replaced with items manufactured to the latest Hawk 60-series engineering standard, according to the RAF. The aim of the programme is to almost double the aircraft fatigue index (FI), a measure of the airframe's life, from 105 to 200FI.

The rework is in the project- definition phase, says the RAF. A decision on whether to proceed to full development and into production is imminent.

Rear-fuselage patch solutions have been examined to address the fatigue problem, but replacement has been deemed a more cost-effective option.

Many of the RAF's Hawk fleet are already close to the 105FI mark. Without the modification programme, the RAF would be faced with increasingly difficult fleet-management problems as aircraft reach their FI limit and are withdrawn from service.

The RAF's training concerns have been exacerbated by problems with the availability and maintenance of Hawks at its training base at RAF Valley, in Wales.

Hawk maintenance was privatised, with the contract being awarded to a consortium of Brown and Root and Marshall Aerospace (BRAMA), but problems have led to renegotiation of the contract.

Sources close to the discussions suggest that BRAMA and the RAF recognise shortfalls in their respective approaches to the contract. The RAF was optimistic about the number of Hawks it thought would be available for Valley, while BRAMA has struggled to recruit adequate numbers of engineering staff.

As part of an interim solution, the RAF ,may draw in additional Hawk airframes from other units.

The RAF has a baseline requirement beyond 2000 of some 120 Hawks. The schedule calls for the first reworked aircraft to enter service in 2000. As a result, fleet numbers could drop below the baseline figure for a period during 2000.

Along with the modifications to the 80 aircraft, the RAF is also considering its needs for a new-build Hawk, fitted with a glass cockpit.

Sources suggest that, on top of the 80 reworked aircraft, the RAF is looking for around 50 glass-cockpit Hawks, with an in-service date of as early as 2003.

Source: Flight International