US Navy wants new aggressor trainer aircraft like US Air Force

US Navy Tactical Surrogate Aircraft
Aircraft eligible for US Navy's Tactical Surrogate Aircraft program.

A few days after the US Air Force released an RFI for a new Advanced Tactical Trainer aircraft, the US Navy also started looking for the same type. According to a notice released Wednesday by the United States Department of Defense, the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWC-AD) Specialized and Proven Aircraft Program Office (PMA-226) is seeking information regarding industry’s ability to provide a Tactical Surrogate Aircraft to be used and integrated as a key tool for future fighter pilot training.

This aircraft would support three training tasks: augment flight time and training in frontline Type Model Series (TMS) aircraft, provide adversary air support, and serve as a flight lead aircraft for Fleet Replacement Squadrons. The aircraft needs to simulate and/or replicate current and future fighter aircraft systems by providing the training environment and relevant experience to build tactical skills, systems management skills, and decision making skills required for weapon system employment actions. The US Navy is currently considering purchasing 64 jets, for which a formal program could be launched in fiscal year 2024 or FY2025.

The capabilities required are very similar to those of the aircraft under evaluation by the USAF. The US Navy is looking at two-seat aircraft, with options to use the rear seat area for other mission gear, and be able to replicate current and future fighter aircraft systems by providing an integrated training environment to build transferable skills, systems management skills and decision-making skills for the use of weapons. The jet must have a large cockpit display and an attachment point on each wing to carry at least one Air Combat Maneuvering Instrumentation pod or a Combat Air Training Missile. The hardpoints also have to be able to carry an external fuel tank or an electronic attack or countermeasures pod or other future pods. Endurance is to be 90 minutes, of which 30 minutes would be tactical maneuvering. The jet is to have a ceiling of at least 45,000 feet and have a structural instantaneous G of 7.5, plus a sustained 6G maneuver.

The controls must have a universal stick and throttle connection to enable reconfiguration of the flight controls to mimic Hands on Throttle and Stick of frontline TMS fighters.

The US Navy is also interested in capability to use a helmet-mounted display system, onboard power sufficient to power wing stations and electronic countermeasures pods, and an infrared sensor. It has a preference for an airplane with an automatic ground collision avoidance system (GCAS) and a zero-zero ejection seat, as well as an engineering analysis or option for aerial refueling and an infrared search and track system (IRST), among other nice-to-have features.

Additionally, the US Navy wants a smart chair simulation-like device that can provide a virtual reality for ground-based flight practice.

Among the main types of aircraft suitable for this role are the Leonardo M-346 and the Lockheed Martin/KAI T-50. As in the case of the USAF, we are not sure that the Boeing T-7A can be considered for these two programs as its combat variant has not yet been developed.

Written by Matteo Sanzani

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