Singapore has eliminated BAE Systems' Hawk 128 from its advanced jet trainer competition, leaving the Alenia Aermacchi M-346 and Korea Aerospace Industries/Lockheed Martin T-50 to battle it out and casting further doubt on the future of the UK aviation icon.

The South-East Asian country made the decision this week, and will hold detailed briefings with the remaining candidates and conduct further flight trials for the aircraft in the coming months, say industry sources. Singapore has given the bidders only broad guidelines on its requirements and left them to recommend aircraft numbers and costs. A final decision is expected around mid-2009.

 BAE Hawk

"BAE Systems is disappointed and surprised to learn that it has not been successful," the company says. "We believe that the aircraft's capabilities, allied to the low cost of through-life ownership and BAE's pedigree in delivering training solutions make the Hawk an ideal platform."

Coming nine months after the United Arab Emirates also eliminated the Hawk from its AJT requirement against the same competitors, Singapore's decision could sound the death-knell for the type, believe some sources. The Hawk fell short of what is required to train pilots for fifth-generation fighters and was assessed to be technologically inferior to its competitors, say sources familiar with the decision.

"This is a significant move by Singapore, which does not make defence decisions lightly. The Hawk has served well for the last 30 years, but Singapore has basically said that its time is up," says an industry source. "The T-50 and M-346 are now the future. Unless BAE spends billions of dollars developing a brand new trainer, it is probably out of the game."

However, BAE counters this view, saying: "We will actively pursue new opportunities where we feel Hawk meets the air force's requirements and supports our through-life strategy." In the meantime, it adds: "Our focus will continue to be on delivering our existing production contracts for India, South Africa and the UK, and on providing through-life support to many of the 19 existing Hawk operators."

Increasing the uncertainty over the future of Hawk, orders nearing an end from the UK and the US Navy, which operates the Boeing-modified T-45 Goshawk. BAE has been in talks with India's Hindustan Aeronautics about possibly moving its Hawk production facilities to South Asia, but nothing has been firmed up.

Lockheed helped to develop the T-50 and works with KAI to market the aircraft globally, while rival Boeing is Alenia Aermacchi's partner and helps the Italian company to promote its M-346 and M-311 trainers. Their presence is significant, say observers. Singapore has ordered 24 Boeing F-15s and may buy more, operates the region's largest fleet of Lockheed F-16s, and is considering the Lockheed F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for its future requirements.

The involvement of the two US defence contractors also means that the T-50 and M-346 are likely to be among the favourites when the US Air Force opens its own AJT competition in a few years.

Source: Flight International