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Ascent and Hawk – Ready to Meet the Challenge of Future Fast Jet Training: H Wheeldon, BGC Partners

Ascent and Hawk – Ready to Meet the Challenge of Future Fast Jet Training: H Wheeldon, BGC Partners

With the first Qualified Flying Instructor Course now commenced Ascent (a 50/50 joint venture partnership between Lockheed Martin and Babcock International) has taken a formidable step forward toward achieving initial course capability. Working in combination with the Directorate of Flying Training of No 22 (Training) Group and the MFTS Integrated Project Team of Ministry of Defence DE&S confirmation that the first ‘Ascent’ run course has now commenced should speed the pace of the well designed Military Flying Training System (MFTS) development.

The concept of MFTS was designed from inception to address the tri-service needs of all military flying training through almost the entire process. The ‘Ascent’ built training facilities at RAF Valley located within the Moran Building now house both the MFTS operation and 4 (R) Squadron which operates the new BAE TMk2 AJT Hawk. Having seen the facilities at first hand I have been very impressed as to how the whole process is now moving forward and meeting the initial objectives set.

Another very interesting aspect is that MFTS opens the door not only for pure UK military flying training needs but also for the training of international combat jet pilots in both current and next generation fighter aircraft such as Typhoon and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Both aircraft mentioned here have extremely high levels of training demand that require Lead-In Fighter Training (LIFT) training capability second to none. As complex, integrated multi role combat jets these aircraft are reliant upon precise systems management capability requiring that pilots have significantly greater knowledge about the aircraft and weapons systems.

Positioning MFTS around the TMk2 AJT Hawk platform along with the entire Ascent led fast jet flying training system (simulators, mission and flight planning, systems management, network based synthetic training within simulators and flying training devices) it seems to me that by virtue of design capability the UK has positioned itself as a world leader in both the technology and concept of fast jet training. This could bode very well from both an international and export perspective particularly in terms of TMk2 AJT Hawk acting as the lead in trainer aircraft of choice for both the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and Typhoon in future years.

The primary interest in producing this paper is to discuss fast jet training and of how in an age of cuts to meet the challenge to providing current and future generations of combat jet pilots with a holistic based training system that can meet the entirety of physical and mental challenges required. However before opening that door it is worth mentioning here that the embodiment of the MFTS training momentum has come at a most interesting time for RAF Valley following the standing down last November of the historic 19 (Reserve) Squadron (from a historic perspective this squadron was the first to receive the Mk 1 Spitfire in 1938) and the standing up of the equally historic 1V (Reserve) Squadron that somewhat ironically celebrate its centenary during 2012. With a motto ‘in futurum videre’ [‘to see into the future’] I would add here that it is apt for the re-born 1V Squadron that with its new 28 strong fleet of TMk2 Hawk aircraft will be taking the flying aspect of UK fast jet training forward through the next generation.

Awarded in June 2008 the £6bn Public Private Partnership awarded to ‘Ascent’ included full infrastructure build-out at RAF Valley. The award requires that ‘Ascent’ be responsible for driving forward UK military flying training over the next twenty-five years. Working alongside its partners and 1V(R) Squadron and with a mission statement to produce sufficient highly motivated, capable, agile and adaptable military aviators Ascent will soon have responsibility for the provision of a significant level of flying training capability for the Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and Army. Whilst still unfolding as the process and capability develops the scope and future potential of the MFTS programme is very large in my view encompassing as it does the potential for not only addressing flying training needs of the UK military but eventually for export customer air forces as well.

Designed from inception as a tri-service training operation following the contractual Course Implementation Compliance Demonstration that was held late last year commencement of the first ‘Ascent’ run Qualified Flying Instructor Course may be regarded as a significant milestone achieved. Elsewhere the first Royal Navy Maritime Observer students should by now have completed initial training at the separate RAF Barkston Heath facilities ahead of moving to the second stage process of training at 750 Naval Air Squadron, Royal Navy Air Station Culdrose. My understanding is that the next stage element of the MFTS training process to go live will be when the first advanced jet students begin training at the ‘Ascent’ facilities at RAF Valley in April this year. The brand new facilities within the ‘Moran’ building are as I have alluded to earlier based on the BAE TMk2 AJT (Advanced Jet Trainer) of which delivery of twenty–eight aircraft to the RAF was completed during 2010. These aircraft (flown by 1V (R) Squadron) will now be primary ground based fast jet training aircraft in the UK and are expected to replace Hawk T1/T1A aircraft currently operated by 208 (R ) Squadron.

The ‘Ascent’ unit capabilities comprise two state-of-the-art CAE built full-motion simulators together with a range of computerised non-motion flying training devices backed up by an array of sophisticated computer based learning and information systems. The FMS (full mission systems) devices will provide training of operational scenarios, simulation of synthetic based radar, surface-to-air missiles, air-to-air missiles and even decoy systems. Spacious, light and with all class rooms well equipped and designed the personal learning devices, hands on computer based training systems and simulation - all of which was in operation and available to see during my visit – I may conclude this is the best facility that I have personally ever seen. It is also useful to note that the ‘Ascent’ facilities are run by a former RAF fast jet pilot and who had previously spent a period with 208 (R) Squadron.

From inception MFTS was designed as an incremental programme that would go live at separate stages. The current plan as I understand it is that following advanced jet training going fully live this will be followed by ‘fixed wing’ comprising elementary flying training, basic flying training and then combinations of multi engine flying training and rotary wing.

As I have said the primary purpose of this paper is to look at fast jet training and the potential that MFTS and by virtue, ‘Ascent’ has in terms of meeting the training needs of both current and future combat aircraft training. RAF Valley has long been the home of Royal Air Force fast jet training. Based initially on the on the Hawk T1/T1A and later on the Hawk 100 version these aircraft have been the primary base of RAF fast jet training capability since the aircraft originally entered service with the RAF back in 1976. Hawk has of course been modernised over the years and apart from basic looks the latest TMk2 AJT version of the aircraft bears little if any comparison to its predecessors to the point that we are somewhat surprised that the original name was retained.

In service with a total 19 air forces around the world having flown the TMk2 simulator at Valley and back seat in a T1 aircraft many years ago I can testify that the TMk2 AJT Hawk is a formidable aircraft in terms of training capability offered.

Designing training capability for next generation aircraft and the pilots that will fly them requires considerable effort. In front line operation it may be said that fourth and fifth generation combat aircraft are truly complex machines being fully integrated with complex weapons systems requiring precision operation and most often that the aircraft should be multi-role capable. Whilst arguably easier to fly than third generation jets that in terms of workload had from a physiological point of view taken pilots to their absolute personal limit current in-service fourth and fifth generation combat jets are reliant on large scale systems management that require intellectually focussed pilot skills. The training requirement, particularly through synthetic elements are today considered equally important and yet they are cost effective training tools that reflect all the various systems and sensor management challenges.

As implied earlier the TMk2 AJT Hawk 128 opens the door in my view to other long term opportunities. With digital glass cockpit layout featuring twin multifunction displays (MFD’s) Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC) Hands-On-Throttle-And-Stick (HOTAS) controls, two mission computers, Inertial Navigation/Global Positioning Systems (IN/GPS) with digital moving map for both navigation and weapon aiming accuracy, Health and Usage Monitoring System (HUMS) OBOGS and full NVG plus the brilliant Rolls-Royce/Turbomeca Adour Mk 951 engine under the bonnet this is without doubt a formidable fast jet training aircraft package. I understand that TMk2 Hawk training will begin with aircraft in an OC2 software standard with embedded-radar simulation capability.

Royal Air Force and Royal Navy pilots going through the fast jet training process at RAF Valley could, depending on which service they are in, go on to fly either Typhoon and eventually, some will move on to fly the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft in whatever form/version that the UK government intends to acquire from Lockheed Martin. F-35 JSF is currently planned as fast jet air power element for the two aircraft carriers currently under construction for the Royal Navy. As an aircraft designed from inception as the primary fast jet training asset the TMk2 Hawk together with the superb Lead-In-Fighter-Trainer link this aircraft has to the international aspects of Typhoon plus the vast F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme should in my view provide considerable long term international training potential for what the UK has now achieved with MFTS.

The potential of TMk2 Hawk as the Lead In Fighter Trainer (LIFT) for nations that have expressed interest in ‘Eurofighter Typhoon’ and the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft and particularly should they currently operate earlier versions of the BAE Hawk (these include the US Navy in Goshawk form, the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force) creates a formidable opportunity for all involved. Equally true is that other nations that do not currently own Hawk aircraft assets such as USAF, Norway, Denmark and Turkey but are likely to eventually fly JSF could because of the potential of TMk2 Hawk as a Lead-In Fighter-Trainer capability could through the excellence of developed UK fast jet training capability show increased interest acquiring TMk2 Hawk. Whatever, we consider that ‘Ascent’ and its partners as developer and operator of the UK TMk2 AJT training system capability stand to gain much in the years ahead. 

It will of course be some years yet before ‘full’ F-35 JSF partners such as Britain order let alone begin to take delivery of this very fine aircraft (except for the three development aircraft (2 x F35B STOVL and one F-35 C Carrier Version) but that should not mean that now is not the right time to open the debate on next generation combat jet training wider. The training challenge for the successful operation of fourth and fifth generation fighter jets is not just in the hands of the pilot. These days it is increasingly the brain that matters and of how one manages the multitudes of sensors to assimilate and process the large amounts of data that might characterise typical air combat. The need for a holistic training system as opposed to an aircraft that enables the pilot under training to address the entirety of physical and mental challenges is for fourth and fifth generation aircraft hugely important.

In terms of synthetic based training that can provide the function for as much and maybe even more than 50% of pilot training it must be able to operate in an environment that is simulated to the correct level but also capable of reflecting true realism of modern warfare and fighter missions, survival tactics, show the importance of precision weapon firing capability. In the increasingly more cost effective world of today this is clearly best functioned through a blend of ground based synthetic training in a synthetically enhanced airborne training environment should if well designed and correctly operated maximise the training value of each training sortie undertaken. In an environment in which economic pressure exists almost everywhere one looks and in which nations are obliged to place greater emphasis on the need to achieve cost effective training that eliminates waste yet also to ensure that they can provide the pilots needed for tomorrow complete with all the various skills they need well designed synthetic based training will move higher in terms of priority. Making best use of resources meaning using top end fighter aircraft assets less in favour of using more synthetic based training will be increasingly important in the years ahead. Whilst the use of simulation can never be total the value of making greater use of synthetic training in simulators and the ability to make use of the experience gained internationally for the benefit of the UK should not be lost.

Moreover if MFTS achieves the majority of its objectives we may soon be able to see TMk2 Hawk and the entire training system (simulators, task trainers, mission planners etc) in terms of both platform and system provide opportunity to take the whole synthetic based concept and the ideals of networked based synthetic training to new levels. Clearly the positioning of MFTS and ‘Ascent’ and of the whole UK approach on TMk2 Hawk training and the ability of the UK to see itself a world leader in the technology and concepts involved and potential for the UK to further benefit in terms of export potential and capability should not be lost.

CHW, London, 12 January 2012
Howard Wheeldon is the Senior Strategist at BGC Partners.

Posted on: 18/01/12