Published on June 21st, 2016 | by Jim Lee


UK MoD confirms further significant investment in future military flying training and new missiles for RAF’s new jets

A new contract, worth around £1.1 billion (around €1.4 billion), has been awarded to UK industry, to supply rotary wing training to the Armed Forces. The contract was confirmed in an announcement by Babcock International Group, to the stock exchange, on 20th May. It brings the value of Ministry of Defence (MoD) contracts with Ascent Flight Training to £2.8 billion (around €3.57 billion). Ascent is a 50/50 joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Babcock International. Their contract work, delivering the four core elements of future military flying training, will sustain 500 UK jobs.

This rotary wing contract, awarded by the MoD to Ascent, will pave the way for the design, delivery and management of a new military helicopter aircrew training service, until the early 2030s. It also marks the continuation of a long tradition, as over the last 35 years, all UK military helicopter pilots have been trained on Airbus Helicopters, initially with the Gazelle and subsequently with the H125 ‘Squirrel’.

New RAF H135 helicopter

New RAF H135 helicopter

The new contract will see the delivery of 29 Airbus H135 and H145 training aircraft, and install new infrastructure and ground-based equipment, at RAF Shawbury in Shropshire, to train future aircrew to use aircraft such as the Apache, Chinook, Merlin and Wildcat. It will also support a further 220 jobs, on top of the 280 already established by the UK Military Flying Training System (UKMFTS). Airbus Helicopters said that, this contract will be the first to receive its newly updated H135, fitted with its Helionix advanced avionics.

This announcement follows February’s award of a £1.1 billion (around €1.4 billion) contract for fixed wing training, which will prepare future aircrew to fly aircraft such as Atlas, Voyager, Typhoon and Lightning II. Under that contract, Ascent, will deliver the instruction, infrastructure and support required to provide flying training across the three Armed Services. Multi-Engine Pilot Training will be in place from mid-2018, and the Basic Flying Training element will be up and running by early 2019. Once fully operational, fixed wing flying training will see students conduct Elementary Flying Training on the Grob 120TP – to be named the ‘Prefect’ for the UK – before going on to complete either Multi Engine Pilot Training on the Embraer ‘Phenom’ 100. or Basic Flying Training on the Beechcraft ‘Texan’ T-6C. See announcement posted here on 8th February. The latest contract award means all core training elements within UKMFTS, which covers training for rotary wing, fixed wing, fast jet and rear crew, are now under contract, with a total value of £2.8 billion (around €3.57 billion).

Mr Phillip Dunne MP

Mr Phillip Dunne MP

In a comment, Minister of State for Defence Procurement Philip Dunne said: “This is the final element in re-fashioning the UK Military Flying Training System into a state-of-the-art structure to develop suitably qualified aircrew to secure the future of air elements of our Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force. Our Armed Forces will benefit from consistent, world class training across the board. It will ready them for the next stage of their careers and equip them with the skills they need to deploy on operations around the globe” He went on; “a £2.8 billion Defence investment with Ascent in the four core elements of this training system has, and will, bring new aircraft and new facilities to the UK, as well as sustaining around 500 jobs across the country. Supported by our rising Defence budget, which went up for the first time in six years in March 2016, these contracts will ensure that the UK continues to be a world leader in military flying training”.

Air Marshal Sean Reynolds, the Senior Responsible Owner for UKMFTS, added: “This is a significant milestone for the UKMFTS programme and the future training of our Military’s aircrew. The modern aircraft, ground based training equipment and infrastructure procured to sustain the training out to 2033, along with a new training system design will optimise the students time in training and skill sets attained. This will in turn ensure that they can be available to conduct operations in defence of the UK and her international interests, earlier than ever before, and in doing so will provide an overall saving to Defence”.

Starting in April 2018, the new contract will provide 28,000 hours per year, training 121 pilots and 99 rear crew annually, from basic flying to offshore and night time operations. Aircrew from across the three Services will continue to conduct their basic and advanced rotary training at RAF Shawbury and Army Air Corps Middle Wallop. Aircrew selected for training in mountain and maritime helicopter operations, will receive instruction at RAF Valley. The new fleet of helicopters will replace the 34 AS350 Squirrel HT1s and 15 Bell Helicopter 412 HT1 Griffins, currently in use, by the incumbent Cobham Helicopter Services.

Defence Equipment and Support Chief Executive Officer Tony Douglas said: “This contract will provide world-leading facilities for aircrew training in the use of our advanced aircraft such as Apache, Chinook, Merlin and Wildcat. The success of the UKMFTS Programme demonstrates how the MOD, through DE&S, can create a positive and innovative partnership with industry to deliver real, tangible results, both commercially and for our Armed Forces”.

Managing Director of Ascent Paul Livingston said: “The award of the Rotary and Fixed Wing contracts marks the delivery of two critical milestones for the UKMFTS programme. Modern training aircraft selected specifically to meet the bespoke needs of the UK’s Armed Forces will deliver optimised training alongside high tech simulators and classroom trainers. Ascent, selected as the MOD’s flying training partner in 2008, will be required to deliver instruction, infrastructure and support required to provide military flying training across the three Armed Services until 2033”.

The H135 is a member of Airbus Helicopters’ light-medium EC135 family of helicopters and was formerly known as the EC135 T3/P3, a type highly regarded for its high endurance, compact build, low sound levels, reliability, versatility and cost-competitiveness. Today around 1,100 twin-engine EC135s have been delivered and are in service in nearly 60 countries. With nearly 300 operators, these versatile aircraft have together flown more than 3.25 million hours.

The Airbus H145, (formerly called the EC145 T2), joins the company’s multi-purpose EC145/BK117 family, from which some 1,000 rotorcraft are in service worldwide – logging a combined total of more than four million flight hours. Compact in size, this helicopter’s small footprint and large and flexible cabin, with designed-in mission capability and flexibility, especially in high-and-hot operating conditions, make it the aircraft of choice for a variety of missions.

Contract to develop a new missile for the UK’s future F-35B awarded

The UK Ministry of Defence has also awarded a £411 million (around €523.5 million), contract to develop a new missile for the UK’s future F-35B Lightning II supersonic stealth aircraft. This contact is for the next generation air launched surface attack weapon, SPEAR (Selective Precision Effects At Range), a component of the UK’s air launched requirement, which builds on the success of the combat-proven Dual Mode Brimstone missile. SPEAR is a 5th generation weapon for 5th generation fast jets. It is optimised for increased ‘platform persistence’ with multiple internal loads on the F-35B and high external load, on current and future fast jets.

RAF F-35B Lighting

RAF F-35B Lighting

The contract, with MBDA, will enable four years of critical design and development work, which will tailor the weapon for use, within the internal weapons bay of F-35B, which will be operated from HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, the Royal Navy’s two £3 billion (around €3.82 billion) aircraft carriers.

Spear in flight

Spear in flight

Powered by a turbojet engine and equipped with wings, SPEAR has the beyond horizon reach, to ensure that the aircraft remains safely away from air and ground threats, offering significant advantages over glide-only weapons. Design and development work on SPEAR 3 over the next four years will tailor the weapon for use within the internal weapons bay of F-35B; the world’s most advanced combat aircraft on order for the Royal Air Force. SPEAR 3 is from the same family of weapons as Brimstone, currently being used by the RAF to combat Daesh in Syria and Iraq, but it packs a bigger punch and has a significantly increased range. It uses an innovative turbojet engine, rather than a tradition rocket motor, giving it a range of more than 60 miles. The missile was successfully test fired from an MoD Typhoon in March, at a range in West Wales.

The contract secures around 350 highly skilled missile engineering jobs across MBDA’s sites in Stevenage, Bristol and Lostock, with an equivalent number of jobs in the wider supply chain, and will draw on engineering and manufacturing expertise from companies across the UK.

Commenting on the contract, Defence Minister Philip Dunne, said: “This contract will give UK pilots a state-of-the-art British designed weapon to be used on board our next-generation F-35B jets, with the precision and punch that we need to give decisive operational advantage over our adversaries and keep Britain safe”.

He went on; “This investment is good news not only for our pilots, but also for UK industry, safeguarding 350 highly skilled missile engineering jobs across MBDA’s sites in Stevenage, Bristol and Lostock, and an equivalent number of jobs in the wider supply chain. It has been made possible by this Government’s £178 billion (around €226.7 billion) commitment to the very best equipment for our Armed Forces and by our growing Defence budget”.

The £411 million contract award follows an initial £150 million (around €191 million) assessment phase and, if successful, it is expected that SPEAR 3 will enter service in the mid-2020s.

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About the Author

Jim has had a life-long interest in military matters and aviation. Initially, he fused both of these interests together with a passion for military aviation, initially as a photographer. He has travelled extensively over the years and has been the guest of many European air forces, plus the air forces of the United States, Russia and others throughout the world. His first introduction to journalism coincided with an interest in the civil aviation industry was when he initially wrote for and later edited, ‘Aviation Ireland’, the club magazine of the Aviation Society of Ireland. Jim was a contributor to Flying in Ireland since its inception over 10 years ago and is now a key contributor to this site. He has also contributed items for a number of other aviation magazines and has produced a number of detailed contributions to Government policy documents, most recently the Irish Government’s White Paper on Defence. He is also deeply involved in the local community and voluntary sector and has worked both in local government and central government.

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