SAAF boosts digital training capability

By Leon Engelbrecht, ITWeb senior writer
Johannesburg, 20 Oct 2006

The South African Air Force (SAAF) yesterday introduced into service the Hawk Mk120 fighter trainer, an aircraft so packed with technology as to constitute a flying computer.

The plane`s manufacturer, BAE Systems, says it provides "the ideal digital training environment for student pilots" destined to fly the SAAF`s top front line fighter, the Gripen - itself a new generation aircraft.

Besides modernising the SAAF`s jet trainer capability that until recently used technology acquired in the 1960s, the Hawk programme also had spin-offs for the local defence IT industry. Local companies supplied parts and components for the 24 aircraft on order and have also been awarded further orders for aircraft being built for other countries.

BAE Systems says the Hawk`s software eases the ability of pilots to graduate from the Hawk to the Gripen, a faster and more complex aircraft.

"The flexibility of Hawk`s combat avionics and navigation suite ensures the cockpits and systems on [the] Hawks closely resemble those which pilots will work with when they move on to the Gripen fighter," said BAE Systems Hawk MD Mark Parkinson at a ceremony to mark the hand-over.

The software also allows the Hawk to handle as if it was the more pricey Gripen, allowing pilots to gain the requisite flying experience at a reduced cost to the taxpayer.

Local development

South African companies involved in the Hawk programme include Advanced Technologies & Engineering, which designed, developed and integrated the navigation and combat training avionics computers under a R500 million contract. The Department of Trade and Industry describes this as the largest contract placed with a private-sector South African defence contractor to date.

Aerospace Monitoring Systems (now part of Saab Avitronics) supplies the "black box" cockpit voice recorders, flight data recorders and the health and usage monitoring system that checks that the aircrafts` components are in working order, while the IFF transponders, which tell the pilot which aircraft are friendly and which are hostile, were supplied by Tellumat.

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