But concerns about safety have pressured defence chiefs to accelerate its replacement, previously marked for 2030, and a decision is expected to be announced before Christmas. It follows more than 15 years of lobbying by the RAF, with investment-hungry Army and Royal Navy chiefs successfully arguing that equipment for front-line operations, such as armoured vehicles in Helmand, remain a priority. Now, just three weeks after the last British soldier left Afghanistan, the decision has been made to fund 12 new aircraft – nine for the team and three operational spares.
Behind its dazzling displays the Red Arrows, based at RAF Scampton, showcases British industry and this, combined with the Government’s Global Britain aspirations, means the new plane must be Uk-built.
Sources say the RAF has its sites on Aeralis, which has already designed the first British jet-fighter since the 1970s and has been awarded a three-year research and development contract with the RAF.
Last night an RAF source said: “The Red Arrows promote British industry and the plane needs to be made in the UK. Aeralis will design, develop and deliver the Hawk T1 replacement.
“Though officially the order date is being played down, given that it will take at least 5 years or longer before the plane is in operational service, there’s an acute awareness that the decision has to be made soon.
“An announcement is pending and will be made before Christmas.”
Aureoles is producing five variants, the first of which has completed phase one and phase two development and is due to fly in 2024.
The unique modular system means that each variant will share a common core fuselage and avionics, but everything else, from the tail to the wings and engines, can be customised to suit the client.
The firm has received funding from the RAF’s Rapid Capabilities Office – also leading work on Britain’s new Tempest Future Combat Air System (FCAS) programme – and RCO chief Air Commodore Jez Holmes said the Aeralis concept offers an ‘extremely disruptive’ approach to design, modelling and certification processes in military aircraft.
He added: “We are pleased to be working with Aeralis to explore the modular air-system approach to future aircraft certification, design and development and, in particular, to understand the exploitation potential of Pyramid, our new open mission system architecture.”
Though the cost of the deal has not been finalised, the company claims its innovative design would offer the RAF a 30 percent saving compared with other, non-UK, rivals when it comes to replacing the newer Hawk T2 trainer.
And, with production facilities earmarked for South Wales the move would also tick both the Government’s “levelling up” and union-boosting boxes, with full-scale production resulting in 200 high-value design jobs plus a further 3,800 jobs created in a future potential supply chain.
Reacting to the RAF funding grant, Aerlis ceo Tristan Crawford said :“As well as helping to enable rapid, digitally-driven development and the certification of flexible, open-architecture aircraft systems, this supports UK prosperity and the Government goal to champion British innovation.
“We are creating a significant export and global relationship development opportunity for the UK.”
Though the firm would not confirm the news, a spokesman said: “Obviously with the retirement date being announced for the Hawk T1 there is speculation around how that important UK capability is preserved and that Aeralis is the only prospect of a British successor. “The RAF has publicly said it doesn’t need to make a decision yet; we continue to ensure they are fully aware of the options we can provide.”