FEATURE: Australia’s Helicopter Aircrew Training System
14 May 11
According to the Capability Development Group (CDG) of Australia’s Department of Defence, Project Air 9000, Phase 7 – also known as the Helicopter Aircrew Training System (HATS) – “is intended to provide a rotary wing training capability for Navy and Army, to meet the future rotary wing training needs of the ADF [Australian Defence Force]. The project aims to deliver a system that encompasses elements of live, synthetic and classroom aviation instruction, to overcome the broadening gap between the current rotary training systems and the advanced operational helicopters in the current and planned future ADF inventories. There are a broad range of options under consideration which could involve a direct capital acquisition or privately financed lease, or elements of both.”
The project was originally divided into two sub-phases – Phase 7A for the Navy and Phase 7B for the Army – but the Air 9000 rationalisation programme combined the two to form a joint training system.
Using helicopters that are almost certainly going to be off-the-shelf models, the CDG envisions considerable involvement for Australian industry in assembly of the aircraft and development of the training system, and significant involvement in design and construction of the Aviation Training Vessel, which is a potential component of the overall training solution.
Current thinking indicates a total programme cost between A$500 and A$1,500 million ($528-1,585 million), and official documents point to a cost somewhere “towards the middle” of this band.
First Pass Approval for the project was achieved in February 2007 and the current schedule calls for a final decision and Second Pass Approval in 2011-2012 and an initial operating capability for 2014-2016, which leaves little time for the acquisition of developmental systems or components. Although the programme has been moving at a glacial pace over the last three or four years, the signs are that operational experience and the onward march of time on current airframes and facilities is now focusing more attention on accelerating the pace to meet the projected capability insertion date.
HATS will involve the replacement of Eurocopter Squirrel helicopters for the Navy and Bell OH-58 Kiowas for the Army. HMAS Albatross in Nowra, New South Wales, has been selected as the location for the helicopter training school, a A$100 million ($106 million) facility, construction of which will be commenced soon after Second Pass Approval. The annual throughput of the school is projected to be up to 60 pilots, 40 aircrewmen and loadmasters and 12 observers.
Also in scope for the programme on current plans are an aviation training vessel, a synthetic environment including full mission simulators, fixed-base simulators and part task trainers, and computer-based training.
Boeing has been providing training support for the Australian Army Kiowas since 1995 and has been operating the Army Aviation Training & Training Support (AATTS) contract since 2007, since which point it has trained over 120 pilots. Recently achieving the milestone of 60,000 flight hours, the company will continue to provide training until the HATS solution achieves full operational capability. The Army currently conducts some 2,000 training missions annually.
Many observers believe the Project Air 9000 requirement is inextricably linked – from commercial and technological perspectives rather than operational – with the ADF’s Project Air 5428 programme for a fixed-wing pilot training system. Industry therefore expects to offer synergies and industrial benefits in approaching the two bid programmes in a common manner, according to representatives of several of the likely bidders.
At the Avalon 2011 Australian International Airshow and Aerospace/Defence Exhibition in March, Boeing Defence Australia and Thales Australia announced their teaming to develop a fully integrated training solution for Air 9000 Phase 7. Although Boeing had earlier indicated it had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with AgustaWestland to propose a system based around the AW109 LUH, the Boeing/Raytheon team has announced its intention to hold an open competition for a suitable helicopter in the near future.
Raytheon Australia and Bell Helicopter plan to offer a programme centred on the Bell 429 twin-engined helicopter, according to company officials.
Meanwhile, AgustaWestland, CAE and BAE Systems have announced the formation of an industry team to address the Air 9000 Phase 7 requirement. AgustaWestland will offer a light twin-engined helicopter and the associated support services required by the programme, while CAE would carry responsibility for the design of the synthetic training programme, including the manufacture of flight training devices. BAE Systems will lead on all maintenance and support services.
Lockheed Martin and Bristow Helicopters are also to mount a joint bid and though the consortium has not yet indicated the airframe on which their offer will be based, there is undoubtedly already a shortlist in mind. The question of whether to bring a dedicated flight training device manufacturer into the industry mix has not yet been made, and will depend on the exact nature of the requirement when the full specification is released – which observers expect to be as early as this summer. Lockheed Martin already has significant experience in the operation of integrated training programmes of this nature, as it operates the Singapore Air Force’s Basic Wings Course and is a partner in the training provider for the United Kingdom’s Military Flying Training System – though neither programme yet involves rotary-wing training.
Eurocopter is also offering its EC135 helicopter, which is already in service with the ADF, as a contender for the programme, though it has not yet announced any intention of forming or joining a consortium bid to offer the fully integrated training solution that appears to be the preferred option.