Airbus Lifts Lid on New Jet Trainer Project

 - October 22, 2020, 5:52 AM
The AFJT proposal is seen as a potential European competitor for the Boeing T-7A. (Photo: Airbus)

In mid-October Airbus Defence and Space revealed a design proposal for an advanced trainer. Development of the Airbus Future Jet Trainer (AFJT) is led by the company’s Spanish division in answer to an upcoming national requirement.

Airbus noted that the AFJT is a program “designed by and for Spain.” The nation’s Ejército del Aire (EdA, air force) has a requirement to replace aging Northrop SF-5M Tiger IIs in the fighter lead-in trainer role around 2027/28. Development of the AFJT would also affirm Spain’s position as a major industrial power in the aerospace sector. The AFJT program would involve participation from other Spanish contractors, such as Indra, Tecnobit, ITP Aero, and CESA, with Airbus acting as prime.

In terms of configuration, the single-engined AFJT is broadly similar to the Boeing T-7A Red Hawk trainer. The aircraft would feature advanced configurable systems that would allow it to incorporate features such as synthetic threats, sensors and weapons, and live-virtual-constructive training. Radar and weapons are options for the AFJT, giving it light fighter/attack and weapons training capabilities.

Transonic performance, good maneuverability and advanced, upgradable systems are seen as key attributes for training pilots to go on to fly aircraft such as the current Typhoon and Hornet, and possibly the future Next-Generation Fighter (NGF) being developed jointly as part of the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) by France, Germany and Spain.

Currently, the EdA operates the CASA C101EB Aviojet as its basic jet trainer, with a squadron of upgraded SF-5Ms providing an introduction to fighter operations. Both types are rapidly approaching the end of their useful lives. Spain has already ordered 24 Pilatus PC-21s to take over most of the training role from the Aviojet, as well as that of the ENAER T-35C Pillán elementary trainer. The first PC-21s—to be designated E.27 in EdA service—are at an advanced stage of assembly in the Swiss factory and the first six are contractually due for delivery next March. The remaining C101EBs are due for retirement by 2027, as are the SF-5Ms.

While Spain is the initial focus for the AFJT proposal, the project is also being aimed at a wider European market. Neighbor and fellow FCAS partner France has a requirement for an advanced trainer to replace the Alpha Jet E, and has also adopted the PC-21 for its basic training needs. Finland and Germany are also seen as potential customers as they embark on new fighter acquisitions.