The introduction of the BAE Systems Hawk T2 jet trainer and modern synthetic training aids are having a dramatic effect on the preparedness of the U.K.'s fast-jet crews.

Senior officers say the first four pilots who graduated from the 11-month advanced fast-jet training course in June—arriving ready for conversion onto frontline types—are significantly better prepared for the multi-role missions than their predecessors, who had trained on the older Hawk T1.

The new training system is being provided by a private company, Ascent, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Babcock, selected by the U.K. Defense Ministry in 2008 to create a new Military Flight-Training System (MFTS).

The Hawk T2 training system was the first of two blocks of MFTS now operational. Ascent also provides rear crew and observer training for the Royal Navy using the Grob Tutor and Beechcraft King Air 350ER, operating from Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose, England.

By the end of the decade, Ascent is due to have revitalized the U.K.'s entire fixed-wing training operation, with new fleets and systems for elementary, basic and multi-engined pilot training replacing or upgrading the current fleets of Grob Tutor, Shorts Tucano and Beechcraft King Air trainers.

Under the new fast-jet training systems, sited with 4 Sqdn. here, pilots are trained by military instructors in the air while experienced ex-military contract instructors integrated into the training squadron work on the ground. New facilities constructed at RAF Valley house modern classrooms and synthetic training aids, including two full-mission simulator domes, flight-training devices and desktop training stations. The introduction of the Hawk T2 enables student crews to familiarize themselves with the modern avionics systems long before they begin flying the Eurofighter Typhoon or F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

A networked information technology structure allows students to carry their training syllabus on laptops given to them for the duration of the course. The interactive learning materials facilitate continuing studies during downtime. The laptops give students access to a Microsoft Flight Simulator-style avionics emulator that helps them understand the majority of key avionics button-pushes. In the classroom, the laptops can be connected to a hands-on-throttle-and-stick (Hotas) system through which students can become familiar with that control configuration. In addition, the entire system is geared toward monitoring a student's progress.

Ascent officials say it will be 2-3 years before they can quantify the financial savings of the new training regime, but they believe they will be recognized once the pilots reach the operational conversion unit of the frontline aircraft type they will end up flying.

“While the Hawk T1s challenged the pilot, they weren't giving them relevant training for the aircraft that they were going to be flying,” says Al Shinner, Ascent station manager for the Hawk program here.

Thanks to downloaded training, pilots are given an understanding of radar and countermeasures; the simulation system fitted into the aircraft helps with grasping use of beyond-visual-range, air-to-air missile engagements and dropping precision-guided munitions. The data-linked system means instructors can insert potential ground threats into the scenario, which is then shared among aircraft taking part in the sortie. Aircraft can also be configured to fly as Red Air (opposing) or Blue Air.

“The training is not just about flying the aircraft. A lot of the skills being developed on this course are related to the data management from the sensors onboard the aircraft,” explains Shinner.

Enabling students to learn advanced skills in the Hawk—which costs a fraction of training in a frontline type such as the Typhoon—diminishes the need to conduct systems-familiarity sorties in the more expensive platform. And rehearsing the mission in the simulator leads to a reduction in “failure events” to 0.5% on the T2 from 7-10% on the T1. Moreover, onboard telemetry and video-recording of each sortie allows the students and instructors to review the flight from takeoff to landing.

Previously, such debriefings would only have been possible if the aircraft had been carrying a Rangeless Airborne Instrumented Debriefing System (Raids) or flying on an Air Combat Maneuvering Instrumentation (ACMI) range. Training for air-to-air combat is mostly conducted only in the aircraft, but many skills required for air-to-ground combat are taught and practiced in the simulator.

Some planned training elements—such as for night-time quick-reaction alerts and helicopter interception—have been dropped, and complex missions have been added. One of the last missions before graduation is a simulated attack involving surface-to-air and aerial threats; as the student is about to attack, the pilots are called to disengage and re-plan the mission inflight to engage a time-sensitive target.

A number of air forces are looking at the training system, and Ascent is studying options to tap the system's spare capacity (currently 50%) to train pilots from other air forces or refresh depleted pilot skills for other aircraft types. The U.K. has trained many foreign aircrews on the Hawk T1 and, although it was about to be withdrawn from training operations at RAF Valley at the end of 2012, training activities were extended for pilots from the Royal Saudi Air Force.

Officials concede that in an ideal world, the Ascent team would have started restructuring the training system from the most basic level up. The current spare capacity is due to the large number of Hawk T2s available, as the aircraft were purchased and training contracts signed before the 2010 Strategic Defense and Security Review shrank the Royal Air Force's fast-jet fleet and its pilot pool.

However, there will be potential for more savings as Ascent brings in new training fleets. Future turboprop basic trainers are likely to feature advanced avionics similar to the Hawk T2's, allowing avionics introductory work to be downloaded into the cheaper aircraft. Basic flight training will probably move here from Linton-on-Ouse in North Yorkshire. Operations with the new fleets are due to begin in 2018.

The success of the training system is a test case for the Hawk as an entrant in a number of jet-trainer competitions around the world. BAE Systems recently began production of the first of 22 Hawks for the Royal Saudi Air Force as part of the £1.9 billion ($3 billion) training deal signed by the Saudi government in May 2012. These, along with eight aircraft for Oman's air force, are being produced on a new line established at BAE's factory in Warton, England. The aircraft is also being offered for the U.S. Air Force T-X competition and the Polish lead-in fighter-trainer requirement.