France is creating goals for its new pilots
French Air Force
By 2025, the Air Force will fly an upgraded Rafale and an unmanned combat aerial vehicle in the combat cloud, with the full withdrawal of alphas taking place in 2020.
They are therefore looking for planes that can prepare pilots to fly this Dassault Rafale multimission fighter.
They want planes that will offer embedded simulation to provide first-class training for the new fleet. 290 pilots are expected to put in 250 hours of training each a year, 70 of which will take place in a Rafale simulator. 50 of these pilots are then set to also fly in the new trainer alpha jets.
So who are are the different candidates is this high-stakes competition?
As you would expect given the prestige of the contract, there are lots of different companies expressing some interest. Naturally, makers are keen to get in on the deal and be the chosen provider of new alpha jets for French pilots, and there is the sense that the French are creating quite the competition here.
Some are already coming out on top as front-runners, but there are other options that should not be ignored.
One of the aircraft that is the seen as the preferred choice for this training competition is the Pilatus PC-21 turboprop, which is already one of the prized models in the French Air Force, but there is also talk of a French delegation heading to Italy to look at the M-345 jet trainer from Alenia Aermacchi.
An alternative option comes in the form of the Czech firm Aero Vodochody. They do not want their New Generation L-39 to be overlooked here.
There is also talk of a potential deal for the BAE System Hawk Jet trainer, although the managing director states that a partnership with the French would depend on the contract, and the Beechcraft T-6 Texan is also rumored to be entering the race.
Is the Pilatus PC-21 turboprop really the preferred option here? At the moment, opinion seems to be split between the Pilatus PC-21 turboprop and the M-345.
Jean-Vincent Brisset, who is ones of the senior fellows at Institut de Relations Internationales et Stratégiques has weighed in on the debate by stating that the Pilatus makes the most sense for an air force on a budget.
He highlighted the fact that the planes are relatively cost-effective, require little maintenance and have an advanced cockpit that is more than capable of meeting the needs of these training missions.
The Pilatus PC-21 turboprop does seem to tick all the right boxes here, but other competitors are sure to make similar claims.
What information do we have from the air force so far?
As always there is little information coming directly from the air force, with the outgoing chief, Gen. Denis Mercier, refusing to make much comment on the plans, however, vague or substantial they may currently be.
There are those that firmly believe that the Pilatus PC-21 turboprop is the front runner here, but then there are also reports suggesting that a delegation is heading to Alenia Aermacchi to buy some of their M-345 planes.
Some say that they are after 35, others say that it will be more like 20-25, but this is all yet to be fully confirmed or denied, by the French.
As things stand, there is clearly quite the competition brewing here and it will interesting to see which company comes out on top – whether it is one of the two leading names or one of the lesser bids a little lower down the pack.
It is reported that the French Air Force are looking to have a decision on the winner by the summer of 2016, which doesn't give these bidders long to persuade buyers.