Published 05 June 2023

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DE&S have negotiated a deal worth £125 million which will ensure the continuation of training of key members of Mission Aircrew prior to the introduction of a new system in 2026.

A contract has been awarded to Ascent Flight Training, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin UK and Babcock International.

Lasting three years, the contract will run until June 2026 to cover the period until the Future intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) and Rear Crew Training System (FIRCTS) replaces it.

It will deliver Mission Aircrew training at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall under the UK Military Flying Training System (UKMFTS) to Royal Navy Observers and RAF Weapon System Officers. This critical output will prepare them to ultimately operate onboard Wildcat, Merlin, Poseidon and Rivet Joint aircraft. Training will be conducted by a collaboration of Ascent civilian instructors and military staff operating from 750 Naval Air Squadron.

UKMFTS team leader at DE&S, Michelle Ostergaard said:

This contract award is a major achievement by the UKMFTS Delivery Team, in collaboration with our industry colleagues. The continuation of Mission Aircrew training at RNAS Culdrose and obsolescence removal programme over the next three years will pave the way for the Future ISTAR and Rear Crew Training System (FIRCTS), which will significantly uplift the training system capability and capacity.”

The Rear Crew Sustainment programme also addresses obsolescence issues, by replacing the current Tactical Mission Trainer Air, with a new Airborne Mission Trainer. The Avenger aircraft will be extensively modified to accommodate an electronically scanned array radar, an electro optical camera, and reconfiguration of the cabin area and mission consoles, extending its service life from 2023 to 2033.

In addition, upgrades to the ground-based training equipment, with enhanced synthetics and courseware, will ensure training system coherence.

It will create five new roles at RNAS Culdrose and will sustain 43 Jobs across the supply chain.

DE&S General Director Air, Vice Admiral Rick Thompson said:

“The provision of this contract will ensure the continuation of the critical training required for the production of qualified mission aircrew needed for front line duties.” 

Observers in the Royal Navy are a key part of a flight crew on board Wildcat and Merlin helicopters, where they are expected to navigate, operate communications systems and on occasions control the weaponry.

In the RAF, a Weapon Systems Officer manages the sensors and weapons of their aircraft during operational missions, whilst at the same time gathering intelligence and supporting forces on the ground.