The stakes in the US T-X programme are high; and the Hawk T2 is being put forth as a contender. MS&T’s Dim Jones provides a programme update and an inside look at the Hawk training system.

In MS&T Issue 1 of 2010, I wrote about the new generation of Advanced Jet Trainers (AJT), specifically the Hawk AJT, in the context of what appeared then to be the imminent US T-X programme to replace the ageing T-38. Since that time, there has been significant AJT competition activity around the rest of the world; however the T-X programme, in terms of sheer numbers and value, undoubtedly the biggest trainer project there has ever been, or is likely to be again, and which must be regarded as the Holy Grail for all the competing partnerships, seemed further away than ever – until the budget announcement of 4th March 2014. Although T-X did not make the top 3 air priorities in the recent DoD review, it has survived the 2015 budget cull, and has received $600m funding over the next 5 years. The USAF is expected to send out a Request for Information (RFI) in November, followed by a Request for Proposals (RFP) in mid-2015, with a contract award in 2017. The prospective IOC date is 2023, by which time the venerable T-38 will have been in service for 62 years, and the average fleet age will be over 50 years. It is already becoming prohibitively expensive to maintain, and these costs can only rise; the full re-equipment programme is scheduled to last 6 years. Interestingly, the FY15 budget announcement includes a funding slice for Air Combat Command, indicating that T-X might also be the replacement for roles other than pure pilot training.


The programme calls for a suite of capabilities including platform, synthetic equipment and training programmes. The 3 existing contender partnerships are: Korean Aircraft Industries (KAI) with the T-50 Golden Eagle; Alenia, General Dynamics and CAE with the M-346 Master, aka T-100; and BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Northrop-Grumman and L-3 with the Hawk AJT. Additionally, Boeing and Saab announced at the end of 2013 that they would be teaming on a new-build aircraft, about which virtually nothing is known. The T-50 is already in service with the Republic of Korea and Indonesia, and has been selected by Iraq; the M-346 is in service in Italy and Singapore, and on order for Israel and Poland. The M-346 had also been selected by UAE, but this contract was never signed, and the UAE requirement remains extant. These contracts represent a total of 65 M-346s and 182 T-50s, although 122 of the latter are either multi-role or trainer/light attack variants. Hawk numbers are much more difficult to quantify, because of the long evolution of the marque, but aircraft of the modern Lead-In Fighter Trainer (LIFT) generation are in service with the RAF, Australia and India, and on order for Saudi Arabia and Oman.

The Hawk Mk 128 AJT entered RAF service in 2011 as the T2, and all 28 aircraft have now been delivered to No IV(R) Squadron at RAF Valley in Anglesey. I had the singular good fortune to see its capabilities at first hand, flying with Wing Commander Dan Beard, the CO of the squadron, at the end of last year. The Hawk T2 was introduced to service to bridge a perceived shortfall between the training which could be provided by the Hawk T1 (a 35-year old aircraft with an analogue cockpit), and the requirement for lead-in to 4th- and 5th-generation aircraft such as Typhoon and F-35. The training provided on No IV(R) Squadron is part of the UK’s Military Flying Training System (MFTS), operated on a 25-year contract by Ascent, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Babcock International. At Valley, Ascent provide all the ground instruction, including simulator instructors, are responsible for ground and air courseware, and manage the ground training and flying programmes through the Training Management Information System (TMIS); the RAF provides all the flying instructors. The aircraft are owned by the UK MoD, and the maintenance is carried out, on behalf of Ascent, by Babcock, sub-contracted to BAE Systems.

The Hawk AJT is a single-engine tandem-seat trainer. It looks similar to – and shares many virtues with – the Hawk T1 and, to those like myself fortunate enough to have flown many hours in the T1, the T2 feels reassuringly comfortable and familiar; but the surface is where the similarities end. The AJT is a different beast and, indeed, I think BAE Systems probably regret not having called it something other than a Hawk, thereby underlining the differences. It has an all-glass cockpit, configured, in the case of the T2, to represent the Typhoon; however, the configuration can be modified to suit the customer and replicate whatever front-line aircraft he wishes. There are 3 large colour MFDs and a wide-angle HUD; the aircraft is powered by a Rolls-Royce Adour Mk951 , an engine with a proven performance and reliability pedigree; the 951 produces more thrust (29kN at SL/ISA) than its predecessors, which combines with a slightly increased basic weight to give the aircraft similar performance to the T1. Students arrive at Valley from Basic Fast-Jet Training on the Tucano at RAF Linton-on-Ouse. It had originally been thought that the introduction of the T2, in advance of the purchase of a new basic trainer to replace the turbo-prop Tucano, would, in itself, require a short bridging course on the T1 but, in the event, that has proved entirely unnecessary.

T2 Services

All the T2-related services at Valley – administration, ground school classrooms, synthetic trainers, aircraft maintenance facilities and flying operations – are contained within a single purpose-built facility, the like of which I have certainly never seen before, and Ascent and RAF staff are totally integrated within it. Ground school instruction is a mixture of Classroom-Aided Instruction (CAI), in one of 4 electronic classrooms, and Computer-Based Training (CBT) in a dedicated facility. CBT is a laptop-based system, although Ascent are also looking at increased use of tablets; each student owns a laptop, the data on which is encrypted so that it can be used off-base. All flight manuals are electronic. Ascent instructors are cleared to deliver training up to a security classification of ‘Restricted’; more sensitive briefing material is handled by the RAF instructional staff. The synthetic training suite comprises 3 levels of device: there are 10 Desk-Top Training (DTT) stations, 6 Flight Training Devices (FTD) and 2 Full Mission Simulators (FMS).

The DTT comprises a keyboard, stick-top and touchscreen monitor, which can be configured for any display in the aircraft. It is used for learning flight profiles, practising start and navigation system procedures, and familiarisation with HOTAS functions. The FTDs comprise a cockpit mock-up – configured for either front or back cockpit - with a touch-screen instrument panel, and a 3-screen visual. The devices use re-targeted aircraft mission computers, can be linked or stand-alone, and are used for both student self-study and formal instruction. They have been found particularly useful for sortie rehearsal and instructor training profiles – including providing the trainee instructor with the ideal environment in which to practise his or her instructional ‘patter’ - so much so that more training is carried out on them than was originally envisaged, and they are used to download training from, or act as a precursor to, the FMS. There are 2 linked FMSs, built under licence by CAE, with high-detail dome visual and motion cueing; they can be used for any purpose up to and including full mission rehearsal.

The Ascent instructional staff is all ex-military, with a wealth of operational and instructional experience, and an impressive combined total of Hawk flying hours. In support, there are 3 Lockheed-Martin personnel to maintain the FTDs, and 4 CAE technicians to support the FMS. The availability of the synthetic training aids is about 99%. The RAF flying instructional staff has all the same experience qualifications, plus the added benefit of recency on the front line, and operational experience on Operations Telic (Iraq), Herrick (Afghanistan) and Ellamy (Libya). Breadth of experience is enhanced by the presence of French, Canadian and South African exchange officers.

An Ascent instructor flies one of the 6 FTSs. Image credit: author
An Ascent instructor flies one of the 6 FTSs. Image credit: author


The live-synthetic mix on the AJT course is roughly 50/50, not as an arbitrary target, but as a result of careful study. The mix varies from phase to phase – the Instrument Flying phase is roughly 20/80 and Air Combat 90/10. All syllabus sorties are rehearsed in the FTD, and this is thought to contribute significantly towards an airborne sortie failure rate reduced from a historic 7-8% in the T1 to less than 0.5% in the T2. Mission planning for flying sorties is carried out using the Hawk Advanced Mission Planning Aid (HAMPA), and briefing of flying sorties is carried out in one of 5 Virtual Briefing Rooms (VBR). The sum total of the advances in ground training techniques and technology ensures that a student on the T2 can walk out to his aircraft fully familiar with the sortie profile to be flown, and as well prepared as he or she can be.

The heart of the AJT system is the avionics, and specifically the emulation, which confers on it the range of sensors and equipment to be found in the front-line aircraft, without the need for the associated hardware and, therefore, at a fraction of the cost. It reflects the essential nature of information warfare in the air environment, and the change in emphasis from the ‘Aviate, Navigate, Communicate’ beloved of ancient airmen like myself, to the modern ‘Aviate, Assimilate, Disseminate’. The best weapons systems in the world are rendered relatively useless without the situational awareness to employ them safely and to best tactical effect; in order to generate the maximum excess brainpower for this purpose, routine aircraft management tasks, such as fuel awareness and navigation, which absorbed so much of a pilot’s time a few years ago, are now automated and streamlined and, through the navigation panel, moving map display and HUD, presented to the pilot in the most easily digestible form. Meanwhile, and although the AJT cannot match the weapons capability and performance of its operational counterpart, the emulated stores management, threat warning system and synthetic radar – data-linked to all similarly-equipped aircraft - provide an extremely realistic and immersive tactical environment which I would have found hard to credit had I not experienced it. The threat scenario can be preloaded during the planning process or ‘unplanned’ threats can be ‘dropped in’ from the rear cockpit during the sortie. There is no longer a need to test student capacity by the use of random injects to precipitate artificial crisis management; pressure can be generated much more realistically, although it must be said that injecting threats ‘on the hop’ can result in quite a workload in the back seat.

In the air-to-air arena, the radar and HUD provide generic MRAAM indications and Launch Success Zones (LSZ), and the equivalent for a basic IR (AIM9-L) missile, although the LSZs are backed up by Rule-of-Thumb ranges and sight pictures; the HUD also provides Lead Computing Optical Sight (LCOS) and Constantly-Computing Impact Line (CCIL) for air-to-air guns. Air-to-ground weapons delivery is generally Constantly-Computing Impact Point or Release Point (CCIP/CCRP) for 1000lb retard bombs, auto-designation (through the nav kit, refined as required through the HUD) for free-fall bombs, and CCIP for A-G guns, ranged through the nav kit and radalt. PaveWay IV medium-altitude and Loft profiles can be planned using HAMPA. There is no live weaponry on the T2 course, but delivery profiles – dive, loft and level - are practised on an academic range, and the results analysed using the HUD recorder and HAMPA playback.

Full use is made of the VBRs for sortie analysis and debrief. Everything which can appear on the MFDs (front or rear cockpits) can be replayed on the HAMPA debriefing facility, as can HUD camera footage, audio from in and out of cockpit, and GPS position overlaid on HAMPA (and overlaid on the planned route if need be). All sorties are time-stamped, and some 30 different event markers (anything from moving the airbrake to trigger down) can be displayed on the timeline bar at the bottom of the display screen. The age of losing the fight but winning the debrief are but a distant memory!


The output standard of the T2 course is a ‘multi-role wingman’. It is too soon to gauge accurately what the impact of T2 graduates will be on the Operational Conversion Units although, in the case of the Typhoon OCU, the course length had already been reduced, and the live/synthetic mix adjusted in anticipation to 40/60, including exclusive use of simulators up until the first solo sortie. The T2 graduates certainly arrive at the OCU with a better awareness of radar characteristics and HOTAS, but it may well be that the most significant benefit will be seen on the front line in the combat-ready work-up where, of course, training costs are at their highest. There is also some scope to download training events from the OCU to the T2 course: both aircraft and simulator are NVG- and AAR- capable, and the simulator could certainly be used to teach air-to-air refuelling procedures.

So, how do the contenders square up? The competing teams have been assembled specifically for this programme, and keeping them together and motivated while nothing appeared to be happening would have been a challenge – but at least things are happening now, albeit slowly. The requirements, as put forward by the USAF, have not changed much and – as far as I can determine – do not of themselves disqualify any of the existing competitors. There are currently 4 Key Performance Parameters, representing critical thresholds, 14 Key Systems Attributes, regarded as ‘essential’, and 23 Additional Performance Attributes (nice-to-haves). The acquisition strategy is not yet precisely determined. The 3 known aircraft vary quite widely in terms of performance and potential acquisition and through-life cost; the Boeing design is an unknown quantity but, since it is being designed specifically for the T-X market, can be expected to reflect Boeing’s take on the requirements pretty accurately. Hawk AJT and T-50, and to a lesser extent M-346, are now well-established in service, and the USAF will doubtless be taking a close interest in how they are performing.

It remains only for me to thank Dan Beard for allowing me to play, albeit inexpertly, with his new toy, which I found to be both extremely enjoyable and impressively capable, the more so as part of a tailor-made training system.