Singapore Air Show

World awaits Singapore’s selection

 - February 20, 2008, 12:41 AM

It might seem strange that the aerospace world awaits with such anticipation Singapore’s choice of advanced jet trainer, especially since it will probably involve no more than a dozen aircraft. But, as Alenia Aermacchi’s CEO Carmelo Cosentino remarked here at the show, “Singapore is one of the most sophisticated and demanding customers in the world–and we like that because we have the best product.”

Spokesmen for Lockheed Martin and Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), which partnered on the T-50, no doubt would express equal confidence. Meanwhile, content to promote its offering without the benefit of a Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) taking part in the flying display, BAE Systems projects a quiet self-assurance. 

For some 30 years, the Hawk has been the undisputed market leader, winning competition after competition, despite its price disadvantage against some competitors. Still, examples marketed today bear only a superficial resemblance to the models delivered to the UK Royal Air Force some 30 years ago. During the interim, numerous upgrades and improvements to airframe and engine have kept the Hawk competitive and the only contender that could claim to be both mature and state-of-the-art in terms of avionics and embedded simulation.

BAE management has long recognized that the Hawk AJT must do much more than teach pilots who have graduated from primary level simply how to fly a high-performance jet. Rather, he or she must learn how to manage missions, dealing with sensors, and weapons delivery against simulated targets and how to use radar–without the need to have radar on board.

And the refinement of the Hawk goes on, with the latest AJT fitted with an engine providing a lower sfc and featuring a strengthened rear fuselage with a longer life. However, Singapore has yet to issue a request for proposals, although BAE Systems is not the only contender to assume that the winning entry will be required to provide a specific number of trained pilots. Furthermore, the number of aircraft needed will be the concern of the contractor not the RSAF.

Lockheed Martin’s director of T-50 business development, J.R. Wildridge, declared that his company is offering a total training solution to Singapore, and his confidence in the aircraft has increased with gathering experience of Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) squadrons equipped with the aircraft.

This has shown that the number of sorties students need to fly to achieve a desired level has come down 20 percent, while a cost reduction of 30 percent is possible using the T-50 rather than the Northrop T-38. It already appears evident that the T-50 will smooth transition to operational fighters.

Although ROKAF T-50s do not carry radar and weapons, the basic aircraft includes provision for seven hard points and it could come equipped with radar–as yet unspecified. The resulting T/A-50 has the same basic airframe, and to tailor the aircraft to the needs of both the UAE and Singapore– each of which has an advanced trainer requirement–appropriate embedded capabilities could accompany the offer.

Lockheed’s Wildridge sees an eventual ROKAF requirement for up to 300 T/A-50s and a total world potential for another 600 aircraft. But some are certain to involve industrial partnerships. KAI’s Dr. Alex Jun confirmed that the company continues to talk with EADS regarding a bid to meet European trainer needs, specifically for the Euro training requirement. He noted that the T-50 could accommodate the EJ200 turbojet, which powers the Typhoon fighter, in place of the current GE F404.

And so, to the Italian contender for the RSAF contract, the number of aircraft is of little concern because the overall driver remains cost and efficiency. Despite the fact that a pair of Honeywell F-124 engines power the M346, whereas the other contenders use single engines, Cosentino contends that the T-50 burns twice as much fuel as the Italian aircraft and he insisted that his company has got its sums right and will make a convincing enough argument to beat the admittedly tough competition.

Having supplied some 2,000 trainers worldwide, Alenia Aermacchi concedes nothing in terms of experience to any of its rivals.