Ascent’s Long-Term UKMFTS Contract for Military Flight Training

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Hawk LIFT(click to view full) Back in October 2006, an $840 million contract for BAE’s Hawk LIFT trainers aimed to provide advanced jet training for both Royal Air Force and Royal Navy pilots, as part of the consolidated UK Military Flying Training System (UKMFTS). In November 2006, the Ascent team of VT Group plc and […]
Hawk LIFT Over Top

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Back in October 2006, an $840 million contract for BAE’s Hawk LIFT trainers aimed to provide advanced jet training for both Royal Air Force and Royal Navy pilots, as part of the consolidated UK Military Flying Training System (UKMFTS). In November 2006, the Ascent team of VT Group plc and Lockheed Martin announced their status as Preferred Bidder to provide military flying training to the Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and Army Air Corps for the next 25 years.

In June 2008, they secured the contract. That began a combination of infrastructure build-out, aircraft modification, and managed competition, aimed at fulfilling a contract estimated at up to GBP 6 billion (about $11.7 billion)… when it was signed. It’s hard to evaluate that number until Britain finally buys its training aircraft and associated training service, and as of 2012, they haven’t even put out the RFP.

UKMFTS and its Components: Fixed Wing & Helicopters

RAF Tucano

RAF Tucano
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The Lockheed/VT Ascent partnership is the overall manager and service provider, after beating the Sterling (Thales and Boeing), and Vector (KBR and EG&G/Lear Siegler, see source) teams. The intent was to partner with the UK Ministry of Defence and begin supporting Advanced Jet Training operations. Other training capabilities would then be added incrementally, until the agreement became a full service operation that covered airfields, simulators, aircraft, fuel, and instructors while providing all aspects of pilot and rear crew specializations. That process is now underway.

The most advanced fixed-wing aircraft Ascent will manage will belong to the British government, thanks to a 2006 purchase of 28 Hawk Mk.128 jets as Lead-in Fighter Trainers. In British service, they will be known as “Hawk-T Mk.2,” to distinguish them from earlier-generation Hawk trainers in service with the RAF. The Hawk is BAE’s flagship aircraft, and is the most widely-bought advanced jet trainer still in production.

Ascent will also train transport pilots, however, and even the fighter pilots need to earn their wings on simpler aircraft. Helicopter pilots will also receive training under MFTS. Those aircraft will be provided via a pair of 25-year public-private partnerships, which include aircraft, ground training, availability and support. They could each be worth up to GBP 1 billion pounds in total, though 2010 cuts to RAF fast jet fleets, and 2011 cuts to trainee pools (vid. Feb 13/11) are likely to reduce the fixed-wing contracts’ value. Ascent will select both winners, in consultation with the MoD.

The RFP for the 25-year “Fixed Wing Aircraft Service Provider” deal is due in October – November 2011, with a preferred bidder announced in mid-2012. The bidders will supply a turn-key service to replace current Grob 115E Tutor, Embraer EMB-312 Tucano, and HawkerBeechcraft King Air B200 planes.

Aircraft Contenders


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Ascent will manage the program, but the aircraft and some services will fall under another set of RFPs. The contenders are divided into fixed-wing and helicopter offerings. For the fixed-wing curriculum:

Team BAE is BAE Systems, Babcock, Gama Aviation, & Pilatus. They’re offering the Grob 115E basic trainer already in use for cadets, Pilatus PC-21 intermediate trainer, and Cessna’s Citation Mustang twin-engine jet for multi-engine training.

Team C3. Cobham, CAE UK, & EADS Cassidian Air Systems. Reportedly offering the more powerful Grob 120TP as their basic trainer. Their intermediate trainer will be the HawkerBeechcraft T-6C.

G-120TP cockpit

Grob 120TP cockpit
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Elbit Systems & KBR. the Israeli firm and the huge global infrastructure management firm are reportedly offering the more powerful and advanced side-by-side Grob 120TP, and HawkerBeechcraft’s T-6C, with an option to conduct the entire curriculum on the cheaper Grob. If they need another T-6 alternative, Elbit’s avionics equip Embraer’s EMB-314 Super Tucano, and Elbit delivered the training center for Israel’s King Air B200 Tzofits.

AS350 UK

DHFS Squirrel
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For helicopter pilots, Ascent is also leading a competitive process, with AgustaWestland vs. the AlphaR consortium of Eurocopter, CAE, and FB Heliservices.

Neither group will reveal the helicopters they’re offering, and both are serious contenders. AgustaWestland supplies most of the military’s front-line helicopters (AH1 Apache, A109, AW101, Lynx, Sea King), and has delivered full training solutions for many of those platforms.

AlphaR’s Eurocopter also supplies some UK helicopters (Puma), and CAE is an acknowledged leader in aircraft simulators and training. Their partner, FB Heliservices, is the current incumbent for helicopter training, using single-engine Eurocopter AS350 Squirrels, and twin-engine Bell 212/412s. FBH also offers single-engine AgustaWestland A109s, and twin-engine AW139s with glass cockpits. Their 15-year deal to run the tri-service Defence Helicopter Flying School (DHFS) expires in 2012. An extension agreement is expected for 4 years to 2016, with a provision for 2 possible further 1-year extensions.

A helicopter service provider decision is expected in late 2011 or early 2012, and Ascent expects to begin fielding the new equipment around 2015.

Contracts and Key Events

2011 – 2012

Ascent Consortium logo

July 13/12: RFP at last? AIN reports that the UK will issue its delayed solicitation for fixed-wing basic training aircraft within about 6 weeks, and reports on the 3 consortia’s rumored contenders.

The base Ascent structure is reportedly set to change slightly, however, as the present government is much more skeptical of Public-Private Partnerships. The new model will reportedly transfer ownership of some of the assets to the government, and finance the rest over a shorter period. ASCENT partners Lockheed Martin and Babcock remain confident that their role will be approved and remain stable.

June 14/11: Ascent Flight Training managing director Barry Thornton tells Flight International that cost targets have been established for basic and intermediate fixed-wing flight training services, plus associated simulators.

June 9/11: Cobham plc announces [PDF] delivery of 4 converted King Air 350ERs to Ascent. The “Avengers” will be used for training Royal Navy helicopter crew to operate sophisticated maritime detection and weapon systems.

June 6/11: The UK Military Flying Training System (UKMFTS) is about to accept its first students, as it prepares to welcome Rear Crew Training (RCT) candidates at Royal Air Force station (RAF) Barkston Heath later this month.

The initial group of 6 Royal Navy Maritime Helicopter Observers will begin with a 4-week Common Core Ground School course with 703 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) at RAF Barkston Heath. Next step is Initial Flying Training and Elementary Navigation Training in Grob 115E single-engine aircraft, then a 15-week Basic Flight Training programme with 750 NAS at RNAS Culdrose. BFT includes simulator exercises on a tactical ground trainer, and approximately 50 hours of live flying on one of the 4 twin-engine Beech King Air 350ER maritime variants (“Avengers”).

Upon graduation from Basic Flight training, the students will move to one of the Royal Navy’s Helicopter Operational Conversion Units, where they will prepare for front line operational tours of duty on Sea King Mk.7 ASaC, Maritime Lynx, or AW101 Merlin helicopters. Ascent.

Feb 13/11: The Daily Telegraph reports that up to 100 of Britain’s 400 student pilots will receive honorable discharges from service. Up to 20 trainee fast jet pilots, 30 helicopter pilots and 50 air transport pilots will have their commissions terminated, even though some are just 30-40 flying hours, or even 5-6 sorties, short of getting their pilots’ wings.

Some pilots reportedly made a last-minute plea to RAF high command to give them a year’s sabbatical, while others have offered to take a drop in pay in order to qualify. It takes about 300 flying hours to qualify as an RAF fighter pilot, for instance, and that qualification is important even for for trainees who wish to find civilian flying jobs. It’s also about a GBP 4 million investment per person by the British government.

Jan 16/11: Target date for delivery of the simulators and electronic training, which will be installed and tested into April 2011.

The CAE Full Mission Simulator (FMS) is 1 of 2, and includes a fully immersive dome display, ‘g’ force cueing systems, and an AI that can simulate synthetic radar, surface to air missiles, air to air missiles, decoy systems, and opposing air and ground units.

Lockheed Martin’s 6 Flight Training Devices (FTD) are part task trainers, housing 2 re-hosted mission computers from the Hawk-T Mk2. They’re used to practice checks and procedures, and rehearse missions in a simulated environment that covers the majority of UK airspace and airfields.

The 10 Desk Top Trainers (DTT) let a student dock his “Personal Learning Device” (PLD computer, dock it with a Hands on Throttle and Stick (HOTAS) control from the Hawk aircraft, and fly a flight simulator on the computer. Source.

Jan 12/11: BAE Systems announces that it has submitted the group’s proposal to be Ascent’s Fixed Wing Aircraft Service provider, and details the planes.

An upgraded Grob 115 with a digital cockpit will be used for basic training, and the Pilatus PC-21 with a Hawk AJT optimized cockpit will handle intermediate and advanced duties. For multi-engine training, the Cessna Citation Mustang business jet is proposed; BAE describes it as the “emerging multi-engine training aircraft of choice by many operators around the world.”

Jan 4/11: AgustaWestland and Eurocopter’s “AlphaR” team submit outline proposals, in a bid to secure a 25-year deal to provide training helicopters and services for the British Military Flying Training System (MFTS). Neither will discuss which helicopters they’re offering, but AlphaR includes current incumbent FB Heliservices, whose 15-year deal to run the tri-service Defence Helicopter Flying School (DHFS) expires in 2012. Defense News | Flight International.

2008 – 2010

AIR PC-21s Mountains

Pilatus PC-21
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Dec 3/10: Lady Elizabeth Moran officially opens the Ascent facilities, and dedicates the combined ground-school and 19F Squadron headquarters to the memory of her late husband Air Chief Marshal Sir Christopher Moran KCB, OBE, MVO, ADC, FRAeS, the former Commander in Chief Air Command. Ascent.

Nov 15/10: BAE Systems announces a set of exclusive agreements with Gama Group Limited, Babcock Aerospace Limited and Pilatus Aircraft Limited. Together, they will bid to be the 25-year Fixed Wing Aircraft Service Provider (ASP) for the UK Military Flying Training System (MFTS) program. BAE Systems | Defense Update | Flight International.

Oct 29/10: Ascent announces that all of the major building work at RAF Valley is now complete. The buildings are receiving their final fitting of computer equipment, as they prepare for their testing and compliance demonstrations before formal handover from Babcock to Ascent.

The Hangar will house the 28 Hawk T Mk2 jets, which will be moved from storage at RAF Shawbury. The Squadron building will house the tactical weapons training unit 19F Sqn, along with all of the classroom and synthetic training facilities. The MFTS buildings are due to be opened by a VIP ceremony in December 2010.

Oct 18/10: Britain’s new government releases its 2010 Strategic Defense and Strategy Review [PDF]. Several air fleets will be scaled back sharply or retired, including Britain’s Nimrod sea control fleet, its Harrier jump-jet fleet, its ASTOR Sentinel R1 ground surveillance fleet, and its GR4 Tornado strike fighters. In addition, planned F-35B buys will be replaced by fewer F-35Cs.

All this means far fewer pilot positions to train for, though Britain’s helicopter programs remained relatively unaffected.

March 9/10: Lockheed Martin announces delivery of their Hawk-T Mk 2 Flight Training Device (FTD) simulator to Ascent at RAF Valley, Wales. They add that it has been installed in a temporary location, pending the completion of the new Squadron and Training facility. Lockheed Martin will deliver a total of 6 FTDs and other trainers to Ascent, for use in the Advanced Jet Trainer program. Lockheed Martin release.

June 2/08: Deal signed. In 2006, VT Group signed an agreement with Lockheed Martin to offer the same training system model to a number of other Governments around the world. They’ll have a customer to point to now, because a GBP 635 million (about $1.2 billion) contract for the UKMFTS was finally signed on June 2/08. The 25 year agreement is projected to rise to approximately GBP 6 billion over the life of the program.

Fred Ross of Lockheed Martin has been named managing director of Ascent, and Ken Cornfield of VT Support Services will serve as Ascent deputy managing director. UK MoD release | Lockheed Martin release | VT Group release.

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