BAE Systems hopes that up to three important UK contracts will be confirmed when British defense minister Des Browne visits the show tomorrow. Production deals for the Royal Air Force (RAF) Nimrod MRA.4 maritime patrol aircraft and the Hawk Mk128 Advanced Jet Trainer are overdue. BAE is also seeking government funds for a British unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) technology demonstration program that it would lead.
Nigel Whitehead, BAE Air Systems group managing director, told employees recently that he was “frustrated” that the Nimrod and Hawk decisions were taking so long
It is more than three years since the Nimrod upgrade program was re-negotiated to produce three aircraft under a target cost incentive fee contract for design and development. Previously, BAE had experienced technical difficulties and serious cost overruns on a fixed-price contract that combined the development and production of 18 aircraft. Since those dark days, BAE has amassed 125 flights lasting 320 hours on the three trial aircraft, with no more major difficulties encountered.
Although a further 400 development flights lasting 1,200 hours are scheduled over the next 20 months, “we’ve already done all that’s required to get a production award,” Wayne Scholz, Nimrod MRA.4 design and development director told Aviation International News. But negotiations between BAE and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) have been complicated by the latter’s decision to reduce the number of aircraft required to 12, and the cost of BAE’s production bid, which exceeded the MoD’s allocated budget.
The MRA.4 should provide significantly enhanced anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare capability through the integration of Boeing’s mission system with a much-modified airframe. The mission crew has been reduced from 10 to eight, and they enjoy much-improved cabin layouts, displays, datalinks, sonobuoy processing, ESM systems and data fusion. New sensors and weapons can easily be integrated, thanks to the MIL-1760 databus.
A glass cockpit using Airbus technology has allowed the flying crew to be halved, to just a pilot and co-pilot. Regarding the airframe, “this is not a refurbishment: we have a brand new wing, new engines and pressure floor,” noted Scholz.
Last year, the UK National Audit Office noted that the weight of the aircraft suggested that growth margin will be eroded, affecting the time-on-station requirement. But Scholz said that an unrefueled endurance of more than 14 hours had now been demonstrated. He admitted that handling qualities of the longer and thicker wing were heavier than the current Nimrod MR.2, “but we aim to eliminate that,” he added.
BAE was awarded a design and development contract for the Hawk Mk128 in December 2004. Two aircraft have been built and flown, and one is on display here. Compared with the Advanced Hawk configurations that are in production for India and South Africa, the Mk 128 has an increased-thrust Rolls-Royce Adour Mk951 offering 6,500 pounds (the same engine powers the Mk 129s for Bahrain, the first of which will be handed over in a ceremony here today). But of greatest significance, the new RAF Hawks would have what BAE describes as an “embedded virtual environment.” This onboard simulation system replicates a combat aircraft’s radar, targeting and electronic warfare systems, and so provides “real training at a fraction of the cost,” according to BAE.
The RAF requires 26 Advanced Hawks to replace more than twice that number of aging, round-dial cockpit Hawk T.1s. But contract award could yet be further delayed, while the MoD chooses a contractor for the future UK Military Flying Training System (MFTS). Three industry consortia are bidding to partner with MoD in an overhaul and streamlining of the training of all UK military pilots. Although BAE successfully lobbied for the Advanced Jet Trainer to be removed from MFTS and awarded direct, the future management and/or provision of the associated ground training has yet to be resolved. BAE operates the Hawk Synthetic Training Facility at RAF Valley, and has proposed a comprehensive Training Support System for the Hawk Mk128. “We expect to be closely involved with the winning MFTS bidder,” BAE noted.
Having rapidly developed the Herti, Raven and Corax unmanned vehicle prototypes using company funding, BAE formed a team with QinetiQ, Rolls-Royce and Smiths Aerospace to negotiate the next stage with the MoD. Last year, the MoD bought into the U.S. J-UCAS demonstration program. But J-UCAS has now been downgraded and recast.
Meanwhile, BAE “has come from nothing in this area to a point where we are a credible contender” according to Whitehead. The MoD has agreed in principle to “a more substantial” British UAV/UCAV demonstrator program with industry contributing to the costs.