Paris Air Show

European forces struggle with flight training costs

 - June 12, 2007, 6:03 AM

Training pilots to fly combat jets is an expensive proposition. A proposal by European air chiefs to cut costs by combining forces has made only slow progress. However, two well established multinational training programs are readily available in North America. Meanwhile, “downloading” and “contractorization” are the prevailing buzzwords, as all air forces try to rationalize their flight training systems.

Delegates to the recent Military Flight Training conference organized by Defence IQ in London heard that the Advanced European Jet Pilot Training (AEJPT) program still has the backing of nine countries–Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. Since last year, when air chiefs from 10 countries signed a European staff requirement (ESR), Switzerland has withdrawn. The remainder must now sign a memorandum of understanding before work to draft a request for quotations to industry can begin.

The AEJPT program was first proposed in 2000 and has been studied thoroughly ever since. An industry consortium including Aermacchi, Dassault, EADS, Saab and Thales produced a feasibility study in 2004 that ran thousands of pages long. But the study could not resolve some controversial questions, such as the extent of outsourcing or what type of advanced trainer is required. The latter debate concerns whether a subsonic jet (such as the Aermacchi M346 or the BAE Hawk) is better than a supersonic one (such as the KAI/Lockheed Martin T-50).

The study work incorporated into the ESR, which describes the skill sets required for 17 different types of missions. But although an “Integrated Training Scheme” has been sketched out, AEJPT staff officer Col. Wolfgang Luttenberger, with the Austrian air force, told the conference, “No syllabi are detailed in the ESR since platform selection is pending.” The level of outsourcing is still not defined. “Some questions have to be solved politically, not militarily. Industries are involved,” he noted.

Germany has also pulled out of AEJPT, and last year made a further 10-year commitment to the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training (ENJJPT) program at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas. This was set up 25 years ago, primarily to train German pilots, but 12 other NATO nations are now also partners. “It started as a short-term solution pending a move to Europe and has since been extended twice. The parties are happy with that,” said Dutch air commodore Peter Berlijn, chairman of the ENJJPT steering committee.

The program in Texas uses U.S. Air Force aircraft, including Raytheon T-6A basic trainers and Northrop T-38C advanced jet trainers. But Berlijn stressed that the European air forces “don’t simply buy U.S. slots.” Rather, they help decide the syllabus and provide management and instructors. The advantages of ENJJPT include economies of scale and year-round good flying weather, he added.

Meanwhile, the NATO Flying Training in Canada (NFTC) program is in its seventh year. It is a joint venture between the Canadian Armed Forces and Bombardier, which has a 20-year contract worth $2.85 billion. Students from eight countries now learn their trade at Moose Jaw airbase in Saskatchewan, on 26 T-6As, 20 BAE Hawk 115s, and various simulators and other flight training devices provided by CAE.

Five European air forces–Denmark, Greece, Hungary, Italy and the UK–send trainees to the NFTC. Canada, Singapore and the UAE are also customers. NFTC benefits from having huge areas of unrestricted airspace, as does the ENJJPT. The AEJPT study concluded that only Beja airbase in Portugal could offer the equivalent in Europe.

Europeans Look To Canadian Model
The problem faced by the three multinational programs described above is that some European air forces are trying to follow the Canadian example. They hope that foreign revenue can justify the continued existence of their in-country training courses. For instance, a Polish air force colonel told the Defence IQ conference that his country had made a strategic decision to retain its air force academy at Deblin and would “try to make it international.”

Whatever the rivalries, most speakers at the Defence IQ conference agreed on the need to download parts of the syllabus to save money. The greatest savings can be made when part of a pilot’s operational conversion to a combat aircraft can be accomplished at the end of the preceding Phase IV advanced flying training.

The development of embedded technology in the latest advanced jet trainers helps achieve synthetic radar and datalink displays, for instance. But downloading can also mean from aircraft to simulators, and from simulators to part-task trainers and PC-based learning. Students enrolling for the ENJJPT and NFTC courses get their own laptops loaded with appropriate courseware.

True to form, and despite sending a few students to the NFTC, the UK is going it alone. Last December it selected the Ascent consortium, comprising Lockheed Martin and the VT Group, to run an ambitious “contractorization” of all British military flight training. The UK Military Flying Training System (MFTS) will span 25 years and cover the entire requirement, from fast-jet pilots and weapons systems operators, to rotary- and multi-engine pilots, and all the rear crew disciplines. It will encompass all flight training from grading through advanced. MFTS “will offer better value for money than conventional asset-based procurement,” according to the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD).

Ascent will own and maintain some, but not all, of the MFTS aircraft. For instance, the MoD will own the 28 Hawk 128 Advanced Jet Trainers (AJTs) that it has ordered from BAE Systems. The MoD will also provide the airfields, fuel and some instructors. However, Ascent will select the ground training system to accompany the AJT, as well as new aircraft for rear crew, multi-engine and rotary-wing training.

Train in Spain

Spain is the latest country to offer combat jet training to foreign air forces. The country’s air force has gone into partnership with EADS-CASA to offer places at Talavera la Real. Earlier, EADS upgraded 22 F-5B two-seat fighters used there by the Jet Pilot School as F-5Ms with enhanced navigation gear and a radar function simulator. Meanwhile, the Spanish air force installed a new simulator, briefing systems and computer-based training.

According to EADS, the renamed Talavera European Fighter School (TEFS) offers unrestricted airspace and skilled instructor pilots with F-18 and Eurofighter Typhoon experience. EADS will provide additional aircraft and financial support, if required.

In announcing the new venture, EADS was careful to note that TEFS and its
F-5Ms would only operate until the AEJPT scheme becomes a reality.