The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) has introduced a period of hiatus, according to an update from 4 March 2024, while the service decides on its next trainer aircraft as the existing 18 CT-155 Hawk units come to the end of their 24-year-long life.

While RCAF officials debate the platform that will best simulate Canada’s newly acquired F-35 Lightning II fighter aircraft, the fast jet leading the nation’s combat air fleet, the Nato military alliance will host their pilots in various training schemes in numerous locations dotted around the Euro-Atlantic.

This interim or ‘bridge’ training programme will occur under the Joint Jet Pilot Training (ENJJPT) programme at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas, and other Fighter Lead-in Training (FLIT) programmes in Finland and at Italy’s International Flight Training School, where Canada will have two instructors and six students by 2025.

Hawk aircraft training operations ceased at 15 Wing Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, in the summer of 2023. Now, Canada will begin to send up to seven pilot students to ENJJPT each year.

What trainer will pilots be taught on while RCAF is in limbo?

Canadian students arriving in Texas will be trained via the Undergraduate Pilot Training programme on the US Air Force (USAF) T-38C Talon, an aircraft dating from the early 1960s that “continues to prove itself a capable fighter trainer.”

The age difference between the 24-year-old Hawk and the Talon, which is more than 60 years old, appears to be lost on the service. Although, the USAF upgraded its Talon fleet to the T-38C variant 16 years ago, which includes updated avionics and support systems.

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Meanwhile, in November 2023, the first T-7A trainer arrived at Edwards Air Force Base in California to begin a developmental flight test campaign, finally due to replace the legacy T-38 for USAF pilots.

Upon completion of the Canadians’ Talon training, the students will move on to ‘Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals,’ preparing them for the cockpits of Canada’s current and future combat aircraft.

Trouble with the ageing Hawk?

In the UK, where the Hawk trainer was originally manufactured from as early as 1976, the House of Commons Defence Committee grilled industry suppliers over the UK Royal Air Force’s (RAF) Hawk T2 lifecycle in a hearing at the end of January 2024.

Ultimately, the Committee’s rough questioning stemmed from its concern that when the Hawk T2 nears the end of its life cycle, the RAF will be left with nothing for real-world training in a physical aircraft that possesses next-generation capabilities suited to a completely new era of aerial warfare.

Like the RCAF, the RAF also has F-35s as its most sophisticated combat aircraft leading its combat air fleet.

RCAF officials will doubtless consider the US’ recent decision to acquire the T-7A trainer, and may follow suit to avoid the British discrepancy.