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Hawk AJT – Potential T-38C Talon Replacement?

The Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) is the perfect replacement for the U.S. Air Force‘s aging T-38 Talon, say industry advocates who demonstrated the aircraft at Fort Worth, Texas, on October 21.

BAE Systems, the originator of the popular Hawk (which dates to a first flight on Aug. 21, 1974), is teamed with Northrop Grumman, which once manufactured the T-38, to market the Hawk AJT in the USAF’s T-X program. The U.S. Navy already operates a derivative, the T-45C Goshawk.

If any aircraft is purchased, the industry team says it should be the Hawk AJT.

The T-X program has moved slowly, and Pentagon officials are not sure they’ll have the funds for any T-38 replacement in today’s tightfisted budget environment, but if any aircraft is purchased, the industry team says it should be the Hawk AJT.

Two sleek, black Hawk T.Mk2s, both on loan from No. 19 Squadron at Royal Air Force station Valley on the island of Anglesey, Wales, kicked off their United States road tour with the appearance at the Fort Worth Alliance Air Show.

Hawk T.Mk2

Hawk T.Mk2 ZK020 at Fort Worth. BAE Systems photo by Brandon Ferris

If funding is appropriated and T-X moves forward, the USAF will order about 350 aircraft, but the purchase will amount to a “foot in the door” for purchases elsewhere of up to 1,000 planes.

Other aircraft proposed, or likely to be proposed, for the T-X program include Italy’s Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master, which is labeled the T-100 for the U.S. market and for which no U.S. partner company has been announced, and South Korea’s KAI T-50 Golden Eagle, with Lockheed Martin as prime contractor. Boeing says it is interested in building an entirely new trainer, but won’t make a decision until more is known about T-X requirements.

The average age of a T-38 today is 43 years, but most aircraft in the fleet have more flying hours remaining on their airframes and could continue at least to 2020. Recently, when Air Force Secretary Michael Donley ticked off a list of programs he hoped to spare from pending budget cuts, T-X was not among them.

The average age of a T-38 today is 43 years, but most aircraft in the fleet have more flying hours remaining on their airframes and could continue at least to 2020.

If it goes ahead, T-X would not only replace the Talon airframes, all of which are now upgraded T-38C models, but the simulators and training materials associated with them.

The Hawk AJT for the T-X program would be a “new build” version of a basic design that is already almost 40 years old. Unless the cockpit controls were changed, a USAF Hawk AJT would include a control stick between the pilot’s legs even though most USAF fighters – the F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, all from Lockheed – rely on a sidestick controller.

The Hawk demonstration will culminate in January at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, home of the USAF’s Air Education and Training Command. BAE Systems has published details of the Hawk AJT road show.

Four pilots – Andy Blythe and Steve Long of BAE Systems and Flight Lieutenants John Rigg and Paul Heasman of the Royal Air Force – are carrying out the ongoing demonstrations by the pair of Hawk trainers. By the time they get home, No. 19 Squadron, the last RAF unit with a history that includes the Battle of Britain, will have been disbanded on November 24. The Hawks will be transferred to No. 4 Squadron at Valley.

By

Robert F. Dorr is an author, U.S. Air Force veteran, and retired American diplomat who...