Douglas Barrie/LONDON

The Royal Air Force is faced with a major rebuild of up to two-thirds of its fleet of British Aerospace Hawk T1/T1As, to keep its advanced-trainer fleet operational beyond 2000.

With many of the aircraft approaching the limit of their airframe lives, the RAF is faced with having to replace the centre- and rear-fuselage sections of up to 90 aircraft. Costs for the project are believed to run to over £100 million ($164 million).

In addition to the rebuild programme, the Ministry of Defence is looking at acquiring a new glass-cockpit-equipped version of the Hawk as early as 2003.

As airframe life diminishes, the RAF has been grappling with a significant fleet-management task on its 140 Hawks. Its plan to tackle the problem is to look initially at extending the aircraft's life by stages, effectively giving it "about 18-24 months' breathing space".

Even with items such as fatigue-life extension, however, the RAF is facing a "significant drop-off" in aircraft availability during the second half of 1999, with about 40 aircraft being life-expired within 12 months if nothing further is done.

Replacing the centre- and rear-fuselage sections is expected to extend the aircraft's airframe life beyond 2010.

The return-to-work programme will still leave fleet numbers likely to dip for a short time during 2000 below the 120-aircraft requirement, with a gap of ten to 20 aircraft envisaged. The RAF is looking at options, including curtailing some elements of Hawk fleet operations.

While the rebuild programme partly addresses RAF Hawk fleet-management concerns, it does not provide a complete solution, either to airframe availability, or to providing a "glass-cockpit" environment for the aircraft.

The preferred option, since budgetary limits preclude an all-new fleet, would be for a mixed fleet of re-worked and new-build, next-generation Hawks at the RAF Valley, Wales, training base .

Source: Flight International