Qioptiq logo Raytheon Global MilSatCom



3 Jan 03. The lucrative £1bn plus Military Flying Training Systems (MFTS) contract to provide fast jet training for the RAF Typhoon and F-35 JSF aircraft is hanging in the balance after the MoD delayed giving the contract to BAE SYSTEMS for 31 Hawk aircraft in favour of looking at the advanced Yak designed Aermacchi M346 trainer.

The ever-increasing cost and complexity of the modern aircraft operated by air forces has put greater emphasis on pilot training over recent years. BAE SYSTEMS have themselves to blame over their failure to upgrade the Hawk to an advanced fly-by-wire trainer with high-altitude capability. Instead they have relied on the history of the aircraft as the best trainer available. The company only won the Australian contract after a digital cockpit was fitted and this aircraft forms the basis of the offer for the RAF contract. However the aircraft does not have the fly-by-wire capability to match the requirements of the Typhoon and F-35 enabling pilots to transfer easily from trainer to operational aircraft. A source told BATTLESPACE that a paper had been written as far back as 1986 suggesting a successor to the Hawk. This was rejected on the grounds of the aircraft’s capability at that time. The Hawk’s analogue cockpit system is an old Marconi design with embarrassing results with the supply of aircraft to customers particularly Malaysia, who suffered from condensation problems in the old displays.

In contrast, the M-346 is a fully western derivative of the YAK/AEM-130, whose development was undertaken with the Yakovlev Design Bureau and Aermacchi. It represents the only really new generation Advanced/lead-in Fighter Trainer while possessing significant capability as a combat aircraft. A full-capable combat variant being planned from the start of the program. The M-346 innovative aerodynamic configuration and four channel, full-authority, FBW (Fly-By-Wire) control system, provides carefree handling behaviour and controlled flight at over 35′ angle-of-attack. Such unique characteristics among the advanced trainers have been purposely introduced into the design for a smooth transition to the next century first line combat aircraft. A reprogramming capability is a future of M-346 FBW system to simulate the handling of different operational aircraft. Avionics system architecture is based on MIL-STD-1553. The data are presented on the Head-Up Display and three Multi Function Displays in each cockpit, while also an Helmet-Mounted Display/Sighting, system is available to both pilots.

Aermacchi is now part of Finmeccanica and it may be that the choice of the M346 may be the catalyst to create the much-discussed wedding between Finmeccanica and BAE SYSTEMS with the M346 forming the basis of a joint development of a new trainer.

In January 1997, following the acquisition of SIAI Marchetti, the Aermacchi “Trainer House” became complete. Over the last 35 years, Aermacchi and SIAI Marchetti have sold about 2,000 of their training aircraft to 40 customer nations, thus gaining unmatched experience in the challenging field of military pilot training.

Aermacchi offers a range of aircraft SF-260, RediGO, S-211, MB-339, M-346, AMX-T unique in the world trainers field.

In contrast, the Hawk originates from a 1964 requirement for a new RAF trainer to replace the Gnat. The two-seat Jaguar was initially intended for this role, but it was soon realised that this would be far from ideal. Accordingly, in 1968 Hawker Siddeley Aviation began the design of a much simpler strictly subsonic trainer, which it designated P.1182 (later HS.1182). The stepped cockpit, allowing the instructor in the rear seat a good forward view, was an innovation subsequently adopted by many other training aircraft.

The combination of BAE SYSTEMS and Aermacchi’s present customer base, including the USA would provide a world-beating team for the next generation of trainers,

Back to article list