The Commonwealth has released a Request for Information to industry for technologies that could lead to the replacement of the RAAF’s BAE Hawk 127 lead in fighter capability.
The RFI was issued on June 3 by CASG’s Aerospace Systems Division through AUSTENDER, and submissions are due to be received by 1600 AEST on 31 July 2020. It says it is seeking “information about these technologies while providing industry an opportunity to engage early on the capability lifecycle as it considers options that may contribute towards the next generation of LIF capability”.
While early in the planning phase, it says responses to the RFI will “inform Defence decision making in relation to the future of the LIFTS (LIF training system) capability”, and stresses that the RFI “does not form any part of any Commonwealth procurement process”. The LIFTS replacement program will be known as Project AIR 6002.
The RAAF ordered 33 Hawk 127s in 1997 to replace the Macchi MB.326 in service. The first 12 jets were built by BAE Systems in the UK while the remaining 21 Hawks were assembled at a new facility at RAAF Williamtown, and the first Hawk 127 entered service in 1999.
Very much a product of the 1990s, the RAAF’s Hawk feel underwent a comprehensive upgrade of many of its aircraft and training systems from 2016 to 2018 in order to better prepare fast jet pilots for the F-35A Lightning II and other next generation aircraft.
The Hawk is powered by the Rolls-Royce Turbomeca Adour Mk 871 which, in recent years has become increasingly difficult to support and has experienced cracking in the low bypass turbine. Engine problems and a persistent wing fatigue issue have led to a couple of groundings of the fleet, the last one in 2019.
ADBR understands the RAAF is looking at an option to re-engine the aircraft with the newer R-R Adour 951 engine, although this has had a luke-warm reception due to the aircraft’s age and its ongoing fatigue issues. The Hawk also lacks the secure systems required to conduct integrated training and operations with F-35, EA-18G, E-7A, and other next-generation systems.
Industry sources suggest the program could accelerate once the RFI responses are received, and that the planned life-of-type of the Hawk could be brought forward due to the engine and fatigue issues.
Possible contender systems to replace the Hawk include the new Boeing-Saab T-7A Red Hawk, the Korean Aerospace (KAI) T-50, the Leonardo M346, and the Textron Scorpion, while BAE may offer a more comprehensively refurbished and re-engined Hawk.