The Future of Military Training
LAt the Farnborough International Air Display in 2014, Aero announced an exciting new project under the title of the L-39 Next Generation or L-39NG. This new concept is aimed at c ntinuing the support for the many existing customers of the L-39, as well as attracting new ones with a modern and flexible approach to the highly successful trainer.
ike all good stories, this one starts over a cup of coffee and the patient explanation of exactly what Aero is developing in its concept for the next generation of military training aircraft. That conversation revealed the outline, albeit in considerable depth, and set me looking into the project out of sheer fascination. That has since grown to excitement as I truly believe the Czech aircraft manufacturer has a world-beating solution to the financial, engineering and logistics nightmares that currently beset air forces worldwide. Frankly, the latest L-39 concept is a bold and adaptable approach to fulfil the needs of military pilot training, no matter the size of the air force or
the budget. To explain the many reasons and thinking behind the aircraft, it is necessary to examine where the world’s jet trainer fleet is today. CURRENT TRAINING AIRCRAFT The modern world has changed dramatically since the Aero L-39 Albatros first flew. The end of the Cold War and the worldwide decrease in military spending has meant that budget is now the prime factor in the thinking of any air force; reliability, sustainability and cost effectiveness are all factors now considered vital in any new military aircraft acquisition. The current generation of training aircraft, such as the Yakovlev Yak-130, KAI T-50 Golden Eagle, Alenia Aermacchi M.346 and BAE System Hawk T.2 are all extraordinarily capable aircraft through their computerbased on-board simulation systems and other advanced training aids, all necessary to prepare student pilots for modern combat aircraft. Unfortunately, for many air forces these advanced trainers are simply not an option due to their relatively high cost, not only of purchase, but of operation. Even those forces with the budget to be able to afford these aircraft have found that the jump from elementary training aircraft to the sophisticated modern trainer is simply too great for the students, costing additional hours of flying to fully acclimatise them to the new machines. This factor is borne out by the example of the Russian Air Force, which had intended to completely replace its L-39 fleet with the Yak-130, but has since decided to retain the L-39 until at least 2020 and probably beyond. This decision was made to reduce the overall training costs and to ease the transition of the students through the training programme. Likewise, the Indonesian Air Force is retaining the Hawk as the basic and intermediate trainer before their students move on to advanced training in the T-50. Other air forces have introduced turboprop aircraft as an intermediary step in the training programme, and while these aircraft are a cost effective solution, there is much to be said for an all-jet syllabus for military students beyond the elementary stage, as they will only be flying jet aircraft for the rest of their career. Including an aircraft with a different form of propulsion and its associated handling in the training programme has historically proven to be counter-productive. Replacing the propeller-driven aircraft of the 1950s and 60s was precisely why jet trainers were introduced in the first place, so students did not have to develop skills and learn handling techniques that they would never have cause to use again. The turboprop trainers have another limitation, particularly for the smaller air force that is looking to utilise its trainers in more than one role. They can only carry a limited weapons or equipment load to operate as light strike, counter insurgency, and reconnaissance aircraft, and are severely limited in the fighter and border patrol roles, lacking both the speed of response and mission adaptability of their jet equivalents. Aside from those air forces with modern advanced trainers or turboprop intermediate aircraft, there is a much larger group of countries that still operate older types, mostly jets. These aircraft are between 25 and 35 years old and form the majority of the world’s jet training fleet, estimated to be in the region of 3500 aircraft of all types. Around 50% of this fleet will require replacement in the next 15 years, leaving a sizeable gap to be filled. These ageing types have a number of other problems inherent in their use. Firstly, maintenance costs are high and will only increase as the airframes get older. Secondly, the avionics and systems they are fitted with do not reflect current standards in front line aircraft and do not prepare the students for the types they will eventually fly. While upgrades and modernisations may help ameliorate this, it would no longer be cost effective to upgrade many of the older types prior to their withdrawal from service.
ABOVE: It’s good coffee too! Editor BELOW: Modern advanced military trainers like the Yak-130 are incredibly capable, but also expensive to purchase and operate. Mike Mcevoy
ABOVE: Advanced turboprop aircraft such as the T-6 are cost effective but have limitations in secondary roles. USAF RIGHT: For many air forces, training aircraft also fill secondary roles such as border patrol and ground attack. Aero