Training becomes more demanding
Byline: Claire Apthorpe / London
The market for advanced jet and turboprop trainer aircraft within the Asia-Pacific region is growing steadily in part thanks to the significant number of countries in the process of upgrading to next-generation combat aircraft fleets. In meeting this growing demand, manufacturers are developing trainer aircraft able to perform a number of training roles for the customer nations. As well as being able to train pilots across a range of aircraft, jet and turboprop aircraft must also be compatible with a number of weapon and aircraft systems so that customers can get the best possible return out of a single platform.
The standard of pilot training is a key factor that will determine the strength of an air force’s aerial combat capabilities. The ability for pilots to be trained in depth in aircraft suitably matched to the end combat aircraft’s capabilities is in many ways a more important stand-alone factor than the capabilities of the combat aircraft itself. Even the most advanced aircraft is reliant on the skills of its pilot in order to perform effectively during high-intensity operations to ensure maximum effectiveness and survivability. As a result, armed forces across the region are taking a hard look at their trainer aircraft fleets, and taking decisions to upgrade and improve where necessary to meet the demands of increasingly complex and demanding threat environment.
Australia is the only country within the Asia-Pacific to be involved in the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft programme, having signed on to receive the F-35A Lightning II conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) aircraft for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). As part of their preparation for the F-35, the Australian government has signed with BAE Systems for the Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) which has been developed to provide training for future pilots of 4th and 5th generation platforms, including the F-35 Lightning II, the Typhoon and the F18.
The AJT is the latest version of the Hawk trainer aircraft, of which over 900 aircraft are in operation with armed forces around the world. The Hawk has been designed to train pilot’s modern air combat skills with its advanced features and capabilities. It is able to demonstrate excellent flying characteristics with a moderately swept wing with combat flap setting.
Equipped with advanced cockpit displays and sensors the aircraft can be used to demonstrate both air-to-air and air-to-ground combat and tactical formation flying as well as extended mission through the use of air to air refuelling (AAR) via both fully-detachable, fixed position probe and mounted ahead of the aircraft windshield and external wing tanks.
The RAAF signed for 33 fleet Hawk Mk127 aircraft in 1997, along with one fatigue test aircraft and two operational flight trainers to be supported by a suite of integrated computer based training classrooms. Delivery of the aircraft was completed in 2001 and in 2002 one of the aircraft were modified for use as an instrumented test aircraft. The fleet is currently supported by CS&S Australia as part of a ten year follow-on support programme secured in 2007.
The Hawk AJT brings a highly advanced training capability to the RAAF. On board systems include three full colour, Active Matrix Liquid Crystal Displays (AMLCD), each controlled by ‘soft keys’, and each able to display the full range of navigation, sensor, weapons and systems data; cockpit lighting fully compatible with the use of Night Vision Goggles (NVG), for enhanced situational awareness during night operations; Head-Up Display (HUD) featuring symbology compatible with front line combat aircraft types; Hands-On-Throttle-And-Stick (HOTAS) controls with moding and switching fully representative of front line combat aircraft types; and Inertial Navigation/Global Positioning System (IN/GPS) for enhanced navigation/ weapon aiming accuracy. The aircraft also features upgraded electronics, 25kVA generator and Auxiliary Power Unit (APU), as well as embedded weapons and sensor simulation which allows cost effective training to be carried out.
Filling the gaps
The Indian Armed Forces have also purchased the Hawk AJT for the Indian Air Force (IAF), with the first aircraft accepted into service in 2008. In total 66 aircraft were purchased under the contract with BAE Systems along with associated support and interim pilot training.
In July 2010 it was announced that BAE Systems had secured a new £500 million order to supply products and services to enable the construction of a further 57 Hawk AJTs by HAL under licence in Bangalore, India. The deal would see 40 aircraft constructed for the IAF and 17 aircraft for the Indian Navy (IN) with BAE Systems providing the specialist engineering services, raw materials necessary for airframe production and the support package for the aircraft.
In particular the Hawk AJT was selected by the IAF in order to establish a fast jet training capability for front line Sukhoi Su-30 pilots. Designated the Sukhoi Su-30MKI in India, the aircraft is a Su-30 variant jointly developed by Russia’s Sukhoi and India’s HAL as a deep strike and air superiority aircraft that forms the centre of India’s combat aircraft fleet. Over 200 aircraft have been ordered by the Indian government in stages, and a licence building agreement between Sukhoi and HAL will see over 100 more aircraft constructed before 2017. The new fleet will significantly enhance India’s aerial combat capabilities, and played a role in pressing forwards the country’s requirements for an advanced trainer capable of preparing pilots for the new fighter.
India has also signed a contract for the PC-7 Mk II Basic Trainer from Swiss aircraft manufacturer Pilatus. The request for proposal was issued by the Indian government on an urgent basis following the identification of a significant gap in training capabilities within the IAF. The PC-7 Mk II was believed to have been selected due to its low cost, beating out a number of other aircraft including offerings from KAI, Hawker Beechcraft and EADS. The initial contract will see 75 units delivered to the IAF to fulfil an Ab initio training and basic flying training role.
A market foothold
One of the most important programmes currently running within the region is the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) T-50 Golden Eagle supersonic advanced trainer and light attack jet programme. Not only has the Republic of Korea (ROK) become the 12th country in the world to have successfully developed a supersonic aircraft, they have become one of only a handful of nations in the world to export a supersonic trainer to a foreign customer. In May this year it was announced that the Indonesian Air Force had ordered 16 T-50 Golden Eagles to replace their Hawk Mk 53 Advanced Trainers, becoming the first export customer for the aircraft and marking an important step for the ROK’s bourgeoning aerospace industry.
Also available in a number of light attack combat aircraft variants, the T-50 Golden Eagle trainer jet features a high thrust with afterburner F404-GE-102 engines with dual-channel digital electronic control, integrated mission computer, airborne video controller, embedded GPS/INS, UHF/VHF radio and radio altimetre. The cockpit features wide field of view HUD, upfront controls on an integrated control panel with data entry display as well as hands-on controls, and multiple colour multifunction displays. Along with an APG-67 multimode radar and fly-by-wire digital flight controls the onboard weapon systems compatible with the AIM-9 missile, internal 20MM gun, MK-82, MK-83, SUU-20 with bombs and AGM-65.
The T-50 Golden Eagle has been evaluated by a number of other nations but missed out on selection by Singapore in 2010. The contract with Indonesia will be a boost for KAI’s export plans, with hopes to find new export customers for the programme that include potential to sell to Israel, Poland and the US.
KAI also produces the KT-1, which uses only domestic technologies. A basic turboprop trainer for air force pilot training, the KT-1 features an advanced cockpit with all-weather light capability, wide field of view, HUD and multi-function display; jet-like handling quality, and is powered by a Pratt & Whitney PT6A-62 turbo-prop engine.
Also used by Indonesia, the KT-1 was selected by the Turkish Armed Forces for the Turkish Air Force T-37 trainer replacement programme. Due for completion in 2013 the programme will see the export of the KT-1T-designated aircraft for Turkey in what will be the first export of an independently Korean-developed aircraft through an international bidding competition. Turkey is to receive 40 aircraft under the programme that will be based on the more advanced KT-1C armed export version featuring all glass and pressurised cockpit, ice-protection and anti-G technology, onboard oxygen-generating system, as well as avionics/armament capacity enhancement and weapon management system. The next phase of the KT-1 development roadmap will see a Super KT-1 export expansion version developed from 2016 onwards, with Peru believed to be considering the aircraft following talks between the two nations in May this year, all good news for the ROK’s designs on the export market.
KAI had hopes to secure a further contract from Indonesia for the KT-1 during 2010, who were looking to augment their training aircraft fleet, but lost out to Embraer who secured the contract with the Super Tucano light attack turboprop. The Indonesian government selected the Super Tucano to enhance their training fleet and perform a broad range of missions, including light attack, surveillance, air-to-air interception and counter insurgence. Equipped with the most recent electronic, infrared, optical and laser technology, the aircraft also features secure radios with data link communications, and advanced weaponry, making it a highly dependable and cost-effective aircraft for a broad range of military missions, even from unpaved runways.
The contract between Embraer and Indonesia came into effect in June this year following a comprehensive bidding competition finalised in 2010. The finished contract includes ground support stations and an integrated logistics package, and will see a total of eight aircraft delivered beginning in 2012.
The Super Tucano is a single-engine, stepped tandem multi-purpose military turbo-prop designed for basic to early advanced and weapons familiarisation training, such as in-flight virtual training and as well as providing advanced operational characteristics required for successful internal security, operation support and counter-insurgency (COIN) missions.
There are three different configurations available to suit specific customer requirements, including the Basic Trainer version with two colour multi-function displays (CMFDs) and a group of basic instruments installed in a ‘T’ format equipped with an altimeter, two attitude indicators (AD Is), a Vertical Speed Indicator (VSI) and the familiar turn-and-bank indicator. The Advanced Trainer configuration features two ADls and a VSI presented on HUD; and the Weapons Training configuration employs the same panel, but system architecture allows the use of Autonomous Air Combat Manoeuvring Instrumentation (AACMI) without the need for ground station support, coupled with NVG instruction.
Fourth-generation armament on the aircraft includes two .50″ machine guns (200 rounds each) in the wings, five hard points under the wing and fuselage allow up to 1,500 kg of weapons for most configurations. In addition to its two internal machine guns, the Super Tucano can be configured with additional underwing armament stations, such as two 20mm gun pods or .50″ machine guns, which will significantly increase firepower for missions requiring air-ground saturation. The aircraft is also able to carry short-range air-air missiles of the AIM-9X class, and the Mk 81 or Mk 82 (conventional or smart) bombs, and SBAT-70/19, LAU-68 A/G Missile Launchers or MLB bombs can also be carried.
Low cost solutions
Alenia Aermacchi has placed major importance on the ability for a low-cost aircraft to bring advanced training capabilities, an increasingly important factor for armed forces faced with stretched defence budgets. While platforms such as the Pilatus PC-7 are partially meeting the requirement for low-cost solutions, the competition within this sector of the market is growing stronger as companies such as Alenia Aermacchi offer increasingly advanced solutions at low cost.
Alenia Aermacchi received an order from the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) in September 2010 for 12 M-346 trainers. The M-346 is an advanced/lead-in fighter trainer designed to bring an superior teaching effectiveness level with advanced design solutions, high safety standards and reduced acquisition and operational costs. Tailored to train pilots to fly new-generation combat aircraft and well-suited for every phase of advanced and pre-operational training, the M-346 is also designed to reduce flight hours on more expensive frontline aircraft, with avionics based on those of new-generation aircraft including Eurofighter, Gripen, Rafale, F-16, F-18, F-22 and the future JSF. The aircraft’s flexible platform is configured also for the operational roles as a Light Combat Aircraft (LCA).
The increasing focus on reduced costs and increased performance and versatility within the trainer aircraft market is particularly good news for the Asia-Pacific region. With many of its residents showing a high demand for such capabilities at affordable price points as they field more sophisticated combat aircraft, the market will continue to grow throughout the coming decade.