The US Navy is to add a synthetic radar function to some of its Boeing/BAE Systems T-45C Goshawks to support rear crew training requirements, and is also considering a possible requirement to place a follow-on order for the advanced jet trainer.

Initially to equip 19 T-45Cs to be delivered to the navy's Undergraduate Military Flight Officer training school at Pensacola, Florida from April, the new virtual mission training system (VMTS) will emulate the capabilities of the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet's Raytheon APG-73 radar, with ground mapping, air-to-ground and air-to-air targeting modes, plus an electronic warfare training capability.

© US Navy

The aircraft will be used to prepare weapon system operators for the Super Hornet, plus rear crew members for the Boeing EA-18G Growler and P-8 Poseidon, and Northrop Grumman EA-6B Prowler and E-2D Hawkeye surveillance aircraft.

Flight testing of the new VMTS capability is scheduled to occur in fiscal year 2010, with the system to achieve initial operating capability in late 2011, the navy says.

The USN will receive its last of 221 T-45s next year under current contracts, with a teaming agreement between Boeing and BAE also set to expire in 2010.

However, industry sources say the parties are in the early stages of discussing a possible deal to deliver up to 180 more Goshawks, with these to potentially incorporate manufacturing improvements and new equipment such as helmet-mounted displays.

If funded, the project could see the T-45 - a development of BAE's Hawk airframe - remain in US service until 2040.

Speaking at the Navy League conference in Washington DC on 19 March, Rear Adm Mark Skinner, programme executive officer for the US Navy's tactical aircraft programmes, said it is "too premature to speculate" on whether a T-45D deal could emerge, but added: "We need a two-seat trainer that goes aboard a carrier."

Additional reporting by John Croft in Washington DC