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Contenders pitch solutions for Australia’s new advanced jet trainer

Illustration: Royal Australian file photo of the Hawk 127 trainer currently in service

Boeing, Lockheed Martin with teammate Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), as well as Leonardo, have pitched their solutions for the Royal Australian Air Force’s new fighter trainer at the Avalon Airshow taking place in Melbourne.

Australia is looking to acquire a lead-in fighter training system as part of the Project AIR 6002 Phase 1 program that would replace the current lead-in fighter trainer (LIFT) solution.

Boeing said it is offering its T-7 advanced trainer to Australia, while Lockheed has teamed up with South Korea’s KAI to offer the T-50 trainer. Italy’s Leonardo said it believes that the M-346 advanced jet trainer/LIFT aircraft and the associated training system is the best solution to train the RAAF’S future pilots.

As part of Project Air 6002 Phase 1, Australia plans to invest between A$4 and A$5 billion in the replacement of the current LIFT capability between 2022 and 2033. LIFT is a system of simulators and fast jet trainers based on BAE Systems’ Hawk 127 aircraft.

BAE received an A$1.5 billion contract for upgrades and in-service support work on the Hawk 127 last year, but the platform is set to start retiring in 2026.

Project Air 6002 Phase 1 is expected to deliver a platform for the training of Australian pilots into the 2050s.

Boeing said the T-7 could be used to train future Australian pilots of F/A-18F Super Hornets, EA-18G Growlers, F-35s and other defense aircraft using live and ‘as real-as-it-gets’ virtual simulation.

“The T-7 would fit right into the pilot training and aircraft sustainment our team currently provides for the Australian Defence Force,” said Scott Carpendale, vice president and managing director, Boeing Defence Australia. “Because the US and Australia already have a high degree of interoperability due to flying similar aircraft types, an Australian T-7 could lead to new joint training scenarios between the two countries.”

Leonardo says its M-346 training system could provide training for the same aircraft types, noting that the M-346 is also the backbone of the International Flight Training School (IFTS), a joint initiative between Italian Air Force and Leonardo, already chosen by Qatari, Japanese, German, and Singaporean Air Forces, among others, and selected as the flagship campus by the NATO Flying Training in Europe (NFTE) project.