Air 9000 Phase 7
Time to take your partners
Emma Kelly / Perth
Aerospace companies, helicopter manufacturers and training and simulation providers are teaming up in readiness for the launch of the Air 9000 Phase 7 helicopter training competition – hardly a surprise given its estimated value is approaching the $1 billion mark.
Air 9000 Phase 7 featured prominently in announcements at the Australian International Airshow in March as aerospace companies and training providers revealed their partners for the delayed rotary wing pilot training scheme. The finalisation of teaming agreements is in readiness for what industry hopes will see the release of a request for tender (RFT) this year.
This section of Air 9000 is intended to deliver a new-generation Helicopter Aircrew Training System (HATS) for the Australian Defence Force. HATS will provide a rotary wing training capability for the Australian Army and Navy to meet the future rotary wing training needs of the ADF, according to the Defence Capability Plan (DCP). The project aims to deliver a system that encompasses elements of live, synthetic and classroom aviation instruction in order to overcome the broadening gap between the current rotary training systems and the advanced operational helicopters in the current and planned future ADF inventories.
HATS will include a new Joint Helicopter School (JHS) at HMAS Albatross at Nowra, New South Wales, which will train all Army pilots and loadmasters and Navy pilots, maritime aviation warfare officers, air crew and sensor operators. Pilot trainees will initially graduate from the new fixed wing pilot training system under Project 5428. HATS will involve a new fleet of civil- or military-off-the-shelf helicopters, replacing the existing Eurocopter Squirrel, used by the Navy, and the Army’s Bell OH-58 Kiowa training fleet. It will rely far more than previously on synthetic training devices, with a requirement for full-motion simulators, fixed base simulators, part-task trainers and computer-based training. It could also include an aviation training vessel. System life is anticipated to be 25 years from full operational capability.
Air 9000 Phase 7 has a long history, with two separate projects for Army and Navy originally planned in the 2004 DCP. First pass approval for the joint project was granted in early 2007, with second pass approval initially anticipated in 2009. The programme hasn’t quite gone to plan, however, with numerous delays along the way.
The Department of Defence says it now plans to release a RFT by the middle of this year, although some industry sources are expecting a draft RFT first, to be followed by the final version some time later. “The progress of this project from first to second pass has been required to be synchronised with the positioning of its funding envelope with the DCP to coordinate with other major Defence projects; its linkages with project Air 5428 for a new Defence fixed-wing pilot training system; and a detailed examination of public private partnerships as an alternate acquisition strategy,” says Defence. An acquisition strategy has still yet to be decided, with this matter still under consideration by the government, according to Defence.
Despite the delays, the timeframe outlined in the 2009 DCP remains the same, with a decision scheduled for financial year 2011-12 to FY2012-13, with initial operational capability in FY2014-15 to FY2016-17.
The delays have apparently allowed Defence to get a clear idea of exactly what it wants. Industry sources are optimistic that Defence is now ready to take the leap. As one insider says: “The customer is very motivated to moving forward…They are quite clear on where they want to go now.” The complexity of the programme has required Defence to take its time, according to industry. “They are taking six different training courses and joining them together and then there’s also the interaction with Project 5428 [fixed wing pilot training system]. And if you look at what’s happened to the rotary wing fleet over the last three or four years, it has completely changed the landscape. There’s been a lot of change and a lot of complexity,” he says.
As soon as Defence is ready to move forward, industry will also be ready. A number of teaming arrangements have already been announced, with the groups waiting in anticipation for the release of the RFT – or even a draft document – to finalise their offerings.
Raytheon Australia was the first to reveal its partnership, announcing last August that it has teamed with Bell Helicopter. Further teams were revealed at Avalon, with AgustaWestland, CAE and BAE Systems confirming their partnership; as well as Lockheed Martin and Bristow Helicopters; and Boeing Defence Australia joined with Thales Australia.
Raytheon and Bell’s bid will be based around the Bell 429 – “the most modern and cost-effective light twin helicopter on the market today offering a substantial capability enhancement for rotary wing flying training and light utility support”, according to the partners. The Bell 429 is well-suited to Air 9000 Phase 7 requirements as it is the only light twin helicopter fully certified to the latest crashworthiness standards and with a large cockpit capable of handling the full range of ADF pilot candidates, says the partners.
The Bell 429 has numerous class-leading features, according to Raytheon and Bell, pointing to certification for single pilot instrument flight rules and all Category A profiles; certification to 6,096m maximum operating altitude with operating temperatures from -40 degrees to 51.7C degrees; being the first helicopter to feature the MSG-3 certified maintenance programme; and improved safety and maintenance efficiency. The 429 also features a spacious intermediate size cabin, fully adjustable crew seats and pedals and versatile track-mounted seats that allow cabin seating to be reconfigured in minutes.
The 429 will deliver a capable, modern and cost-effective system necessary to prepare rotary wing pilots for operational transition onto a wide range of advanced aircraft, says Michael Ward, managing director of Raytheon Australia.
As well as the strengths of their platform, Raytheon and Bell emphasise that their team offers strong existing customer relationships, innovative training solutions and a record of contract performance. Raytheon Australia has more than a decade of experience in supporting rotary wing training, particularly for the NavyIn 1999, the company first signed a standing order to provide logistics and engineering support services to navy helicopters based at HMAS Albatross. In 2006, the company won the retention and motivation initiative (RMI) programme contract, supplying three AgustaWestland A109E light twin helicopters to the Navy for 1,500 flight hours per annum operating from Nowra. In 2009, it won the AS350BA Squirrel in-service support contract whereby a performance-based solution is provided to meet the operational and training needs of the Navy’s 13 AS350BA training helicopters.
As a result of these contracts, Raytheon Australia has 70 personnel based at Nowra.
Beyond its Australian activities, Raytheon points to the company’s aerospace training pedigree, including Hornet and Super Hornet training systems, electronic warfare training systems and training programmes in the United States and the United Kingdom.
Bell Helicopter, meanwhile, has supported the ADF for more than 50 years, supplying and supporting the 206 Kiowa, 47 Sioux, and UH-1 helicopters.
“We at Raytheon Australia have drawn upon all of our experience and expertise gained through delivering helicopter support to the ADF to select Bell Helicopter as our partner for this programme. Bell Helicopter has a well deserved reputation for delivering on their commitments and, as a result, I believe that together we are well placed to become trusted partners of the ADF in this vital endeavour in force preparedness,” says Ward. Raytheon and Bell have not discounted the possibility of adding more team members, with the partners waiting for the RFT to be released before any decisions are made.
But Raytheon and Bell will face stiff competition from a number of other teams, including Boeing Australia and Thales Australia, which are also promoting their track records in delivering defence training solutions. Boeing Australia and Thales Australia signed a memorandum of understanding at the Avalon show in March to pursue Air 9000 Phase 7 together. The partners are now analysing their proposed solution design. “It’s very important to get that right so we are very focused on delivering to the customer a highly capable crew to operate in the battlefield and to provide value for money,” says Shane Fairweather who is leading Boeing Defence Australia’s air crew training programmes. Boeing and Thales are “pretty clear” on how the will move forward and will look at the draft RFT when it comes out and formalise their arrangement.
“Working with Thales is a very good collaboration because of the natural synergies that we bring to one another,” says Fairweather, adding that the partners have a “fantastic working relationship” which has developed from working together on a number of programmes in the past. “Boeing and Thales have been partners in defence flight training and simulation for more than 15 years,” says John Duddy, Boeing Defence Australia vice-president and managing director. “Both companies have proven track records in delivering training courses on time and producing mission-ready pilots,” he adds.
The relationship dates back to the mid-1990s when Thales operated the F-111 simulator and training programmes and Rockwell, a Boeing heritage company, held the F-111 avionics upgrade contract. They have also worked together on the Boeing 737 Wedgetail operational flight trainer and the C-17 Globemaster III aircrew training simulators.
Boeing looked at all of its options before partnering Thales, says Fairweather. “We had a good hard look at a lot of options around that and it really came back to Thales…We really looked for a partner that added immediate value,” he says.
Boeing and Thales have yet to decide on a platform for their bid, launching an open and competitive tender for helicopter manufacturers to select a training aircraft. “The platform tender process is in progress now. Our aim is to select the best platform for the training solution we develop. We didn’t see it was in the customer’s best interest to get wedded to a platform and then try to drive a solution around that. We have taken the opposite view,” says Fairweather. The platform tender process involves a “very detailed design analysis”, he says, which will draw on Boeing and Thales’ capabilities. “If you look at all the platforms in the class, they are all capable of doing the job. They’ve all got strengths and weaknesses in terms of how they operate, the acquisition cost, life cycle costs, crashworthiness compliance. We will be asking a lot of questions of those that choose to respond,” says Fairweather.
The partners intend to select a platform before the final RFT comes out. “We’ll select a platform that can deliver the best solution that meets the customer’s requirements. Once we see the draft RFT that may have some impact on the platform solution, but we will do a very thorough assessment on the platform,” he says. Fairweather adds: “We haven’t got a platform preference and we are quite deliberate about that. Our approach is very much about understanding exactly what the customer wants and delivering the platform that provides the best outcome for them. Across the whole spectrum they will all be a compromise of some sort so it’s a case of what’s the best compromise.”
On the platform side, Boeing previously had an MoU with AgustaWestland with the A109LUH. That MoU, signed in early 2008, has subsequently expired. “We still have a very good relationship with AgustaWestland but the requirement for Phase 7 has changed quite a bit and the marketplace has changed somewhat so our requirements have changed. Along with our approach of delivering the best solution we sort of moved past that. That doesn’t mean we reject the platform, we have just moved to a different place,” says Fairweather.
Boeing and Thales will wait to see the RFT before determining whether to add more members to their team. “When we see how the customer wants to structure it, then that would be a mutual agreement we would come to with our existing people, but only where we see it would add value,” he says. The acquisition strategy, for example, could have a bearing on how the team is structured, says Fairweather, adding that Boeing and Thales are flexible for both a straight acquisition or more of a public-private partnership.
A key aspect of Boeing and Thales’ proposal will be how to transition from the existing Boeing-held Army Aviation Training and Training Support (AATTS) contract to the new HATS. Boeing has been supporting the Army’s Black Hawk and Kiowa helicopters with pilot, aircrew and technician training, as well as operational fleet maintenance and support services, at the Army Aviation Training Centre at Oakey, Queensland, and on Boeing CH-47D Chinooks in Townsville, Queensland, under AATTS since 2007. During this time, Boeing says it has completed 100 per cent of training courses and aircrew graduations on time; flown 7,000 training sorties while logging 8,000 flying hours; and performed 4,000 services on Black Hawk and Kiowa training aircraft. Boeing employs more than 200 people across its AATTS operations and has one of the largest military instructional aircrew teams in Australia.
Following the modification of the AATTS contract last year, which includes five one-year extensions, Boeing is now around halfway through the contract which will run through to the start of HATS. “The transition plan is something we are focused on very much. We’ll need to make sure we can transition out of AATTS to Air 9000 Phase 7 very effectively,” says Fairweather, adding that capabilities developed through AATTS put it and Thales in a good position to bid for Air 9000 Phase 7.”We’ve got a very strong capability up there in delivering instruction and the design of it, and what Thales brings in technology. If you put all the factors together we bring a very strong team,” he adds.
Boeing and Thales are not underestimating the competition, however: There are some very interesting teams out there, it’s going to be a strong competition.”
One of those “interesting teams” involves AgustaWestland, CAE and BAE Systems. “With this team, we have brought together the world’s foremost rotorcraft capability provider in AgustaWestland, a global leader in simulation-based training with CAE, and one of the world’s most capable through-life support partners in BAE Systems,” says Guiseppe Orsi, chief executive officer of AgustaWestland.
AgustaWestland will offer a variant of the AW109 light twin helicopter and associated aircraft support services; CAE would have primary responsibility for the design of the synthetic training programme, including the manufacture of training devices and classroom and simulator instruction; and BAE would lead all maintenance and support services. The team members are all world leaders in their respective fields, says AgustaWestland, so each team member brings complementary capabilities. “The team will offer a flexible and innovative solution that is based on established relationships and customer presence and which will deliver a low-risk solution founded on schedule and price surety,” says the helicopter manufacturer, adding at this stage it does not anticipate adding any more members to the team. AgustaWestland, CAE and BAE’s considerable experience in delivering complex training systems provides it with confidence for whichever acquisition approach the government adopts.
AgustaWestland says until it has analysed the customer’s final requirements, it won’t be specific about which variant of the AW109 it plans to propose. The AW109 would have a number of benefits, says the manufacturer, pointing to the fact it is a COTS solution; has a proven pedigree in the military training market; proven naval capabilities; mature support and existing training systems; can be easily configured for secondary roles such as utility tasks, passenger carrying, search and rescue and EMS; has similar features to other helicopters in the ADF inventory, including wheeled landing gear, high performance and an integrated cockpit; and can be easily configured for air transport.
Like Boeing and Thales, the Lockheed Martin-Bristow Helicopters Australia team has yet to commit to a platform for Air 9000 Phase 7, but instead will evaluate all of the potential platforms and carefully match the stated requirements to equipment which will support the most cost-effective and efficient training system outcome.
“Most of the competing teams have already nominated an OEM as a partner meaning they must now build their solution around the specified platform,” says Lockheed Martin. “The Lockheed Martin-Bristow approach seeks to parallel more rigorous comparative value-for-money methodology regularly adopted by the Commonwealth, that is evaluate the requirements; compare all of the potential platforms and supporting equipment and select the most appropriate platform to deliver the most cost-effective and efficient training system outcome,” it adds.
Lockheed Martin says that meeting the Commonwealth’s needs in the most cost effective way is not just about platform selection, but is about choosing and delivering the optimal combination of equipment, operational expertise and training system “Lockheed Martin and Bristow are confident that by electing to parallel the Commonwealth’s own thinking on value-for-money procurement with our global experience in helicopter aircrew training systems and platform operations, we will deliver a solution that is highly attractive to the DoD,” Lockheed Martin explains.
Lockheed Martin says its partnership brings together the leading developer and deliverer of proven aircrew training systems with Australia’s lead offshore helicopter and maintenance provider. Lockheed Martin points out that it already trains more than 22,000 aircrew members in fixed and rotary wing systems annually. Bristow, meanwhile, is the largest provider of helicopter services to the Australian oil and gas industry, with a fleet of 35 helicopters, and is part of Bristow Group, which is the leading provider of helicopter services to the global offshore energy industry. It also maintains the Republic of Singapore Air Force helicopter fleet at Oakey Army Aviation Centre.
Lockheed Martin says its team will be ready to respond whenever the DoD issues an RFT.
Some OEMs are also keeping their options open, with Australian Aerospace, for example, undecided on whether it will bid as a prime or providing its platforms and maintenance capabilities to other primes. “At this stage, we are keeping our options open, pending a decision by the Commonwealth on their acquisition strategy and the release of the RFT,” says the Eurocopter subsidiary. It adds: “Australian Aerospace could be a prime, a co-prime and provide its platforms and maintenance to other potential primes. Australian Aerospace is talking to existing teams while not ruling out, at this time, the possibility of being the prime.”
The manufacturer has been promoting the EC135 to the Commonwealth and potential primes, although it says there could be other aircraft in the Eurocopter range which may be of interest. The company demonstrated an EC135 to Defence and media representatives in Canberra and Nowra in November last year and found the “opportunity to demonstrate the aircraft’s capabilities to be very worthwhile”.
Australian Aerospace points out that the EC135 has already been selected as the military training platform by Germany, Switzerland and Japan, among others. Over 900 of the type have been delivered, clocking up 2 million flight hours across the fleet. As part of the type’s strengths, Australian Aerospace is highlighting the EC135’s commonality with the ARH Tiger and MRH90 which are already in service with the ADF, “providing relevant training opportunities for pilots as they transition into active flying”, it says. “The EC135 is agile and responsive, with a multi-role capability, low operating costs and high mission availability. It is an excellent training platform with outstanding visibility for the crew which offers unrivalled safety and enhances ergonomics,” it adds.
Industry is ready for the Air 9000 Phase 7 competition to begin and now all it needs is an RFT.