Hawk software to be upgraded

By Leon Engelbrecht, ITWeb senior writer
Johannesburg, 28 Jan 2008

SA's growing fleet of BAE Systems Hawk 120 lead-in fighter trainers will shortly receive a key software upgrade. Midrand-based Advanced Technologies and Engineering (ATE) developed the Hawk's avionics and software in SA.

A company source says the fleet - fast approaching its contracted size of 24 aircraft - will shortly receive a critical software upgrade. "We're a week away from installing a certificated version of the software with full functionality," the source says.

The current, developmental, software has allowed the SA Air Force (SAAF) to use the 22 Hawks on inventory for flying training and some weapons handling. The operational software will allow the aircraft to function as fully functional fighter jets - just as the SAAF starts to phase out its existing front-line fighter, the Cheetah.

The Cheetah will, in due course, be replaced at 2 Squadron by the Gripen advanced fighter, of which SA has bought nine single- and 17 twin-seat versions. 2 Squadron is located with 85 Advanced Flying School, at AFB Makhado, at Louis Trichardt, in Limpopo province.

The Hawk software project has been hailed as a major success for SA as it was the first time that BAE Systems had outsourced the development of Hawk programming and avionics, partly because aviation is a notoriously conservative and safety-conscious industry. About 900 Hawk aircraft have been built from the mid-1970s to date and all - except the SA version - have been fitted with British software.

Other projects

ATE is also bidding for Armscor tender EWIN/2007/522, issued on 8 January. Armscor is the state's arms acquisitions agency and fulfils a similar role to the State IT Agency. The tender calls for the upgrade, installation and commissioning of a Hawk 120 aircraft navigation weapon system integration bench.

Meanwhile, there is no news on who will upgrade the avionics of the Pilatus Astra II basic trainer under RFT ETEL/2006/614, issued in February last year. The aircraft is also fitted with an ATE cockpit, but the source says the SAAF is keen to award the deal to Pilatus, the original equipment manufacturer.

Complaints have been lodged about the Astra's avionics, but the company says it was contracted to develop and install the hardware, as well as associated software, but was then never awarded a maintenance contract to proactively sustain the avionics. Instead, it has been called in ad hoc to fix breakdowns.

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