Singapore Air Show

Trainee dogfighters duke it out over Changi

 - December 6, 2006, 8:02 AM

Much in evidence here at the Asian Aerospace show this week are the four competitors for the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s basic/primary trainer competition: the Aermacchi M-311, Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano, Pilatus PC-21 and the Raytheon T-6B. The presence of these aircraft in Singapore coincides with the latest evaluation by the RSAF following earlier flights at the manufacturers’ test sites. The four contenders were flown by RSAF pilots in the days preceding the show, and formal proposals were to be submitted by February 14.  A winning bid is expected to be chosen during the first week of August.

Singapore’s requirement is for a new fleet of trainers to replace the Siai-Marchetti S-211s that are currently in use at Pearce air force base in Western Australia. The S-211 now requires replacement by a more modern trainer that can better prepare pilots for the new generation of RSAF fighters–the F-16 and newly ordered F-15SG–particularly in the areas of in-flight systems management and cockpit instrumentation.

Rather than being a straight acquisition, the new trainer requirement comprises a private-finance initiative (PFI)-based approach, with contractors providing a complete training package on a power-by-the-hour basis. As well as flight training, the proposals cover a complete range of ground-based training aids and training management systems.

Originally the RSAF requirement covered 25 aircraft, but contractors have suggested they can meet all of the RSAF’s training requirements with fewer aircraft–approximately 18 to 20. The initial schedule covered flight evaluations at the manufacturers’ locations last September and October, followed by proposal presentations in December and a decision this month. However, the flight evaluation phase was extended to cover the recent trials here in Singapore, and the final decision delayed to include data from those trials. Assuming the decision is made in August, deliveries are due to be made in March/April 2008 and the contract will last for around 20 years.

Team Proposals

To cater to the all-embracing aspects of the training system proposals, four teams have been formed around the competing aircraft. The teams include the aircraft manufacturer, Australia-based maintenance support companies and systems integrators and suppliers. Aermacchi is leading the M-311 bid with Bombardier in support, while Israel’s Elbit leads the Super Tucano team. Lockheed Martin is heading the PC-21 bid, while Singapore Technologies Aerospace (ST Aero) partners with Raytheon on the T-6B proposal. ST Aero’s joint-venture AES company currently provides maintenance for the Pearce fleet, and would do so for the T-6 if the team is chosen.

Of the four competitors, only Aermacchi is offering a jet. Although there is a fuel-burn penalty compared with its turboprop rivals, Aermacchi suggests that its direct operating costs can be brought in line with its competitors, while it has a performance edge. Experience with flying jets from the start may also provide benefits to students, and some cost reductions downstream. The M-311 is a dramatically overhauled version of the original S-211, with an all-new cockpit featuring three large multifunction displays (MFDs) and HUD (front) cockpit)/HUD repeater (rear). The aircraft is powered by a Pratt & Whitney Canada JT15D-5C turbofan, and has revised systems offering greater reliability, faster turnaround times and reduced maintenance. A single demonstrator now flying is to be joined by a second later this year

Pilatus’s PC-21 also has a very modern, reconfigurable cockpit based around three large MFDs and HUD, and has the highest performance of the three turboprop aircraft. The company asserts that it has “jet-like performance and handling, offering the benefits of a jet but with the low costs associated with the turboprop.” This highly promising aircraft has yet to achieve a firm sale, although it should be noted that Singapore was the first of only three customers for the S-211.

On the other hand, Raytheon’s T-6 has been sold widely, is in high-rate production and has been in service with the USAF since 1999. According to Raytheon’s Jim Smith, “The T-6 represents the lowest-risk–perhaps a ‘no-risk–solution, which equals lowest attrition. It’s also what we consider the best training system in the world, and has been the heart and soul of what we have been doing in the USAF for some time.”

The T-6B on offer to Singapore has an updated cockpit with four MFDs and HUD, and the ability to handle the range of training needs from basic through to air-to-ground, and even electronic warfare (EW). Like its rivals, the T-6B has a thoroughly modern cockpit and can provide advanced  tactical instruction through the use of the aircraft’s system to generate virtual radar and EW.

Embraer’s Super Tucano is also in full production and has been in Brazilian Air Force service since late 2004.  It has an impressive weapons capability although this may not be of significance in Singapore’s case.

As with all such competitions, the outcome is far from dependent on the characteristics and relative merits of the aircraft. The RSAF is examining in detail the PFI proposals, as well as the ground-based apparatus that accompanies the aircraft. Growth capability is another important factor, especially as the air force front-line inventory changes, for which open-architecture systems are a requisite.