The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) subsidiary, Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S), will continue to fund mission aircrew training for the next generation of pilots in the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force (RAF).

The latest deal will support the Ascent Flight Training (AFT) sheme, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin UK and Babcock International, with £125m ($155m) funding.

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.

AFT 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.

“The provision of this contract will ensure the continuation of the critical training required for the production of qualified mission aricrew needed for front line duties,” DE&S General Director Air, Vice Admiral Rick Thompson stated.

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Personnel reduction

This contract follows the UK MoD’s decision to reduce personnel across the British armed forces in its Defence Command Paper in 2021.

“The government maintains that capabilities, rather than troop numbers, are of primary importance in confronting the defence and security challeneges facing the UK,” a House of Lords Library document entitled “Resilience in the UK armed forces” states.

The new focus does not mean that service people running the show ought to have the support they need stripped away from them for the sake of capability. The additional funding DE&S provides is necessary if the UK wants to ensure that its pilots across the armed forces can perform at their best as tensions grow in various theatres of conflict around the world.