T-50 and M-346 face off in Singapore trainer bid

 - February 2, 2010, 2:31 AM

Singapore’s choice of an advanced jet training system is due next month and could be crucial to the future export prospects of Italy’s M-346 Master and Korea’s T-50 Golden Eagle. These dissimilar training jets have been bid here by rival prime contractors, ST Aero and Lockheed Martin, respectively. The decision here is likely to influence the United Arab Emirates, which notably failed last November to confirm its previously announced selection of the M-346 over the T-50.

The difference between these two evaluations is that Singapore will contract for a total training system, including simulators and classroom trainers. The UAE is selecting an aircraft and will then hold a separate competition for a training systems provider.

Lockheed Martin is already providing the basic wings course to the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) under a turnkey, private finance contract awarded in late 2006. The first RSAF students have graduated from their 12-month course, which starts in Singapore with classroom tuition and moves to Pearce airbase in Australia for flying instruction on the Pilatus PC-21 and two full mission simulators. “We have done 7,000 hours in our first full year, and the 19 aircraft have demonstrated an unprecedented reliability rate of 98 percent,”

Jim Weitzel, vice president flight solutions for Lockheed Martin Simulation,
Training and Support (LMSTS) told AIN.

The very different characteristics of the M-346 and the T-50 are again on view here in Singapore, as at many recent aerospace shows. The M-346 is a subsonic, twin-engine design, whereas the T-50 is a supersonic single-engine machine. “We believe that the T-50 is a mature design that offers much greater synergy with future combat aircraft, such as the F-35,” said Weitzel. He noted that the latest avionics that Korea Aerospace Industries is incorporating into the new FA-50 version could be available for the T-50, if selected here.

ST Aero is fronting Alenia Aermacchi’s bid of the M-346 to Singapore, but declined to comment for this article. Its role is apparently limited to providing the in-service support for the airplanes (one that it would also perform for the T-50,
as a subcontractor, if LMSTS was declared the winner here). The ground-based training system to support the M-346 would be provided by Boeing’s Training Systems and Services division, which is a third partner to ST Aero and Alenia Aermacchi.

Boeing and Alenia Aermacchi announced a long-term partnership for pilot training a few years ago.

Both contenders for this significant contract were required to nominate two alternate training bases outside Singapore should the RSAF elect not to continue using Cazaux, France, for its fighter wings course. The service currently bases a dozen TA-4S Skyhawks there, the remnants of a much larger combat jet fleet that was replaced by F-16s.