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The companies QinetiQ, Thales and Textron AirLand have announced a collaborative bid to lead the UK Ministry of Defence’s upcoming Air Support to the Defence Operational Training (ASDOT) programme. The programme aims to meet the training component of UK air support across the Air Force, Navy, Army and Joint Forces Commands from 2020, progressively replacing existing contracted and military service provision as these programmes expire or reach their planned end of service date.

As reported on, in June 2016, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) released information on what the UK Military Flight Training Systems Project Team would seek from the programme: the provision of live flying assets to meet training requirements for air to air combat; air to surface combat; joint terminal attack controller / forward air controller (airborne); electronic warfare; air traffic control, ground-based air defence and aerospace battle management; and live gunnery. Under current planning assumptions, the programme will be delivered in incremental phases. Phase one will be introduced from 2020 for 15 years (at an estimated value of £750m); phase two could add another £300-500m over the remaining eight years.

“The joint team is working on an innovative, cost effective and technologically advanced solution that will offer a value-for-money managed service utilising the Textron AirLand Scorpion jet,” says Paul Dingley, strategic campaign lead for defence operational training at QinetiQ. “This aircraft will be equipped with Thales and QinetiQ sensors and will provide a broad spectrum of training for all three UK armed services.”

The Textron AirLand Scorpion has been specifically designed as a versatile, low-cost tactical jet. It has a centre payload bay and six hard points the aircraft can be configured with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) payload as well as weapon sets. Its high dash speeds, extended endurance and loiter time at cruise speeds allow the aircraft to be applied to the spectrum of mission sets, including ISR, close air support, armed reconnaissance, maritime and border patrol and jet training.

”QinetiQ will also integrate the sensors and jamming pods into the mixed aerial fleet and lead on the UK certification of the Scorpion aircraft to ensure compliance with military airworthiness regulations,” Dingley said. “The joint solution will include a provision for the introduction of synthetic operational training and airborne aerial target capabilities. QinetiQ has a rich background in cost effective aircraft operations and fast jet expertise, providing significant savings to the MoD – the Empire Test Pilots’ School being a prime example.  We will look to continue to provide significant overall savings to the MoD while offering the highest standard of service for ASDOT.” QinetiQ’s role will also include an element of maintenance and the provision of pilots.

Thales will draw on its experience in delivering fully managed training services and engineering bespoke high fidelity training equipment such as its full mission simulators for the A400M, Voyager, Tornado, Rafale, Mirage 2000, Hawk and Eurofighter. The company will also be responsible for providing a range of sensors optimised for situational awareness, threat replication and targeting training, as well as Electronic Warfare capability.

”Collaborative working of this nature, for programmes of this size and importance, is vital within both the aerospace and defence industries. This partnership puts us in a strong position to succeed and enables us to look at solutions that will offer the highest standard of support to UK defence operational training” said Dingley.

How the ASDOT programme continues to shape up over the next six months will be interesting to see. Countries including Australia, the US and Canada are in the process of upgrading their airborne training capabilities so the market is bubbling with offers from major players at the top of their game. Presumably, the UK will have a strong field of contenders to choose from.