Regional pilot training - increasing local capability

Trainer aircraft

1st Nov 2010


In many ways the Asia-Pacific aerial defence market is poised for tremendous change in the coming decade. Many armed forces within the region are investing heavily in defence procurement programmes, intent on upgrading and modernising their offensive and defensive capabilities on a large scale. But it is the indigenous development market that garners the most attention, with numerous nations focussed on gaining a foothold within the arms development market. While ground and naval technology developed in Asia has been seen in a number of areas – particularly in domestic markets –a similar pattern in aerial defence markets remains to emerge.


Is this set to change? Possibly; advances are being made in the rotary-wing market, and in addition more than one country is currently developing combat aircraft to meet the needs of their own armed forces. These include the Japanese Mitsubishi ATD-X Shinshi fifth generation fighter jet being developed by the Japanese Ministry of Defense Technical Research and Development Institute (TRDI) for the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF), and the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) Tejas fourth generation lightweight multirole jet fighter being developed for the Indian Air Force (IAF) – to name two examples. But at this point there are no nations within the Asia-Pacific that are capable of developing a modern fighter jet able to compete in international markets with the countries that dominate the scene: the US, Russia, and Europe.


A big step towards this capability is the development of advanced jet trainer aircraft that often share technology with fighter aircraft. The production of trainer aircraft with the ability to school pilots in combat techniques using modern lead-in aircraft is a move in the direction of future domestic fighter aircraft capabilities, and a number of nations within the Asia-Pacific are beginning to show progress in this area. This is an indication that the development of true combat aircraft may not be too far behind.


Indigenous ingenuity


Leading the field in the development of aircraft trainers within the Asia-Pacific is South Korea. (KYM TO TASHA, BPS) The national aerospace company, Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), is one of the most advanced in the region in terms of its industrial capabilities. Since designing the KT-1 Wongbee basic training aircraft in the 1980s for the Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF), the company has gone on to develop a number of platforms aimed at developing and cultivating the indigenous capabilities of Republic of Korea (ROK) industry. The basic trainer is a turbo-prop single-engine aircraft, and was both the first aircraft to be produced domestically by the ROK, as well as becoming the country’s first ever exported aircraft in 2003 when the Indonesian Air Force purchased the KT-1B, a modified version, as part of a $60 million contract. This was followed in 2007 by a contract with Turkey for the export of 55 upgraded versions of the KT-1 basic trainer, which at the time was the ROK’s second largest arms deal.


The next phase of the KT-1 programme is the KT-1C armed export version. This upgrade includes enhanced avionics and armament capability, all-glass cocktpit, advanced weapons management systems and a pressurised cabin, and provides training for air-to-air and air-to-surface missions. In addition the trainer is designed to give excellent stunt, spin and stall, as well as inverted spin entry and recovery training, and has manoeuvrability similar to jet aircraft. The current phase of the programme will be followed by Phase 3 from 2016 onwards, which will see the development of the Super KT-1, a further export enhancement of the KT-1.


KAI is also working with Lockheed Martin on the T-50 Golden Eagle supersonic advanced trainer and light attack jet. The T-50 development began in 1997 and production started in 2003; and was undertaken in order to produce an aircraft capable of addressing the training needs of pilots for 5th generation fighters such as the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II. According to Lockheed Martin, the T-50 delivers a total advanced training system that will bridge the gap between basic flight schooling and high-performance fighters. This is achieved through embedded onboard systems, which allows students to readily grasp the operational training concepts and the essence of the pilot/machine interface before, during, and after each flight. Based on an F-16 design, the aircraft has great manoeuvrability and the certainty of through-life support.


The T-50 project development concept will also include a T-50B advanced manoeuvrability aerobatic plane, the TA-50 tactical trainer capable of use as a light attack jet with embedded radar and reinforced weapon capacity; as well as the FA-5- upgraded day and night time light attack jet, based on the TA-50, with night time attack capability, precision armament, and tactical data link for NVIS, GPS/INS guided bomb drop capability.


The T-50 is being marketed internationally and has narrowly missed out on sales in the Middle East and Singapore. The largest commercial prize of all is the US market, where KAI’s relationship with Lockheed Martin is absolutely vital.


Domestic trainers


Joining the ranks of the small number of nations producing aircraft capable of winning international procurement contracts is a significant step for the ROK, and is a boon for the domestic development industry. Within the Asia-Pacific region there are two other nations producing domestic aircraft trainers, Japan and China, but neither has yet succeeded on the international market.


The Japan Air Self Defence Force (JASDF) uses two aircraft trainers, the Fuji T-7 turboprop and the Kawasaki T-4 jet trainer. The Fuji T-7 began life as the Beech T-43 Mentor, developed by Fuji Heavy Industries, as the T-3 trainer with a Lycoming piston engine. The T-7, designed as a replacement basic trainer, was selected by the JASDF in the late 1990s over the Pilatus PC-7 Turbo Trainer, the Embraer Tucano, and the Raytheon T-6. It features an Allison 250 turboprop engine with the same low-winged monoplane layout of the earlier T-3; modifications have also been made to external sections including the cowling, tail and wing sections.

It has been used by the JASDF since 2002 under a contract that was to see between 40 and 70 units delivered in total. The Fuji contract was called a ‘lifeline’ for the ailing company at the time. The favourite in the competition was the Pilatus PC-7 Mk II Turbo Trainer; Fuji managed to slash ¥150 million from the initial price tag for the T-7, undercutting Pilatus and securing the contract. Following allegations of corruption, the competition was cancelled in 1998 and re-started in 2000, with the T-7 again securing the winning bid.


The JASDF also uses the Kawasaki T-4 jet trainer for jet training, with over 200 units in service. It was developed in response to the JASDF’s requirement to replace its ageing Fuji T-1 trainer aircraft and the Lockheed Martin T-33s manufactured by Kawasaki in Japan.


China’s home grown aircraft capabilities are centred on the JL-15 Falcon advanced lead-in fighter jet. China has taken a lot from its lengthy relationship with Russian/Soviet aerospace industry. (KYM TO TASHA, BPS) A significant amount of the technology developed within country for the nation’s defences have grown out of this relationship, and the JL-15 is powered by two Russian/Ukraine AI-222-25F turbofan engines, allowing the aircraft manufacturer, Hongdu Aviation Industrial Group to meet the evolving needs of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF). This domestically produced aircraft is capable of preparing pilots for advanced Chinese fighters including the Chengdu J-10 and Shenyang J-11.


In 2008 the aircraft prototype was demonstrated at the Zhuhai Airshow for the first time. According to Chinese defence analysts two versions are being developed - an advanced jet trainer (AJT); and a lead-in fighter trainer (LIFT). Both are powered by the Ukraine AI-222-25F turbofan engines, and the LIFT is also fitted with afterburner, giving supersonic capability. A large leading-edge extensions and a large vertical tail fin in order to help the aircraft achieve manoeuvrability similar to that of the J-10 and J-11. The aircraft is also capable of being converted into a light attack role, as it features under-wing and wingtip pylons for the addition of air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons. Although little is known of the PLAAF’s specific plans for the L-15, it is believed that the Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) and the Peoples’ Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) have ordered the aircraft for evaluation. The AJT version is expected to enter production by the end of 2010, and the latest prototype of the LIFT version is newly completed, and features an enlarged nose, possibly for fire-control radar, and improved glass cockpit. It is due to undergo its first flight in the near future.


Western dominance


As South Korea, China and Japan find their feet as potential international market players on a large scale, the majority of nations within the Asia-Pacific region continue to rely on Russian, European, and US exports for their aircraft trainer requirements. The dominance of these nations when it comes to producing aircraft capable of meeting the increasingly advanced requirements of the world’s armed forces can be expected to remain unchanged for the foreseeable future.


One of the leading aircraft trainers being sold within the region is BAE Systems’ Hawk AJT. The AJT is the latest version of the Hawk, and over nine hundred Hawk trainers are in use with eighteen customers worldwide, including Australia and India. It is designed to provide training for air force pilots of 4th and 5th generation aircraft such as F-35 Lightning II, F18 and Typhoon, all of which are being marketed within the Asia-Pacific region.


In terms of design, the Hawk AJT is equipped with a swept wing, combat flap setting, with excellent turn rate in both clean and loaded configurations, as well as an impressive climb rate. It is powered by Rolls Royce/Turbomeca Adour Mk.951 turbofan engine (6,500lb) with Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC) and a target TBO (Time Between Overhaul) of 4,000 hours, and provides stable handling, advanced cockpit displays, including 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. It has cockpit lighting fully compatible with the use of Night Vision Goggles (NVGs), for enhanced situational awareness during night operations; and Head-Up Display (HUD), Hands-On-Throttle-And-Stick (HOTAS) controls fully representative of front line combat aircraft types, and Inertial Navigation/Global Positioning System (IN/GPS) for enhanced navigation/ weapon aiming accuracy.


The Australian government acquired the Hawk Mk127 in 1997 under a contract included 33 fleet aircraft, one fatigue test aircraft and two operational flight trainers, supported by a suite of integrated computer based training classrooms. Delivery took place between 2000 and 2001, and a state of the art dedicated assembly and support facility was built in-country. One aircraft underwent an upgrade programme in 2002 in order to operate as an instrumented test aircraft, and BAE Systems continues to support the fleet under follow-on contracts.


The Indian Air Force purchased 66 Hawk aircraft, associated support and training in 2004, with delivery of the first 24 aircraft, built in the UK, taking place in December 2007. The following 42 are being built in India by HAL under partnership. In July this year a further deal was signed between BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce and HAL for the supply of a further 57 Hawk training jets.


Alenia Aermacchi’s aircraft trainer products are also seeing success in the Asia-Pacific region. The most recent success occurred earlier this year with The Republic of Singapore Air Force selecting 12 M-346 ahead of the KAI T-50. Deliveries are scheduled to begin in 2012.


Earlier regional success has been built around the MB-339 LIF trainer, which is a tandem two-seat, single-turbojet aircraft with proven ability to match performance levels and manoeuvrability of current operational aircraft. The trainer is in service with nine different countries worldwide, with Malaysia being their latest customer.

The latest MB-339CD is equipped with state-of-the-art avionics, including HUD and three Multi Functional Displays (MFDs) in both front and rear cockpits. It features an air-refuelling probe, matching the capability of most modern fighters, and enhanced training and operational capabilities. It also features a number of enhanced functions in the avionics system, including upgraded embedded simulation, digital maps, compatibility with NVGs, new radio and Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) systems, a new Autonomous Air Combat Manoeuvring Instrumentation (AACMI) pod.


Malaysia ordered eight MB-339 aircraft under a contract signed in 2006 to train pilots for the Sukhoi Su-30MKM on order for the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF). The contract also included the provision of spare parts, ground equipment and services over a two-year period, and covered the training of Malaysian pilots, which was undertaken at Alenia Aermacchi in 2009.


Swiss company Pilatus also produce aircraft trainers capable of preparing pilots for next generation aircraft, with the PC-21 NextGen Trainer the most recent addition to their portfolio. The aircraft is already in use with the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF), and according to Pilatus, it ‘surpasses’ other turboprop trainers on the market. Capable of delivering basic flying training, advanced flying training, full mission management training and embedded simulation and emulation training, it is powered by a 1600 shp Pratt & Whitney engine with power management software, with 8g high profile wing with hydraulic ailerons and spoilers; pressurised, stepped, tandem cockpit with birdstrike resistant canopy, automatic yaw compensation, and open architecture mission computer with separate critical and non-critical software. It also features an on-board oxygen generating system and is capable of pressurised refuelling.


Singapore chose the PC-21 to replace its Aermacchi S-211 trainers in 2006 as part of a public/private partnership (PPP) team led by Lockheed Martin. Under the agreement, Lockheed Martin provided the aircraft, maintenance, simulators, courseware and simulator instructors for the RSAF’s Basic Wings Course (BWC) flight training programme. Pilatus delivered the advanced PC-21 turboprop trainer and logistics support, while maintenance support is provided by Hawker Pacific. The PPP agreement is one of the first of its kind for trainer aircraft, and allows the RSAF to train their pilots within an advanced-technology environment.

 

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