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Newspaper continues anti-Hawk campaign despite official displeasure

Date: 26 January 2004

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The Citizen, a Johannesburg-based tabloid started with apartheid government money in the 1970s, is continuing its apparent crusade against the current government's decision to purchase BAE Systems Hawk lead-in fighter trainers (LIFT). The paper on Saturday reported an angry response from Defence Minister Mosioua Lekota as well as BAE Systems' South African spokesman, Linden Birns. The paper on Tuesday ran a story detailing a 1999 Royal Air Force report unfavourably comparing its Hawks with the Italian Aermacchi MB339C/D. The paper followed up on Friday with a further report challenging the cost of the 24 Hawk LIFTs being purchased by South Africa when compared to the Hawk 127 purchased by Australia. Late last year the same paper and reporter unsuccessfully sought to link BAE Systems to alleged corrupt practices at a logistics company linked to late Defence Minister Joe Modise.

Both the Hawk and MB339 competed for the LIFT contract. But what The Citizen failed to make clear was that Squadron Leader Al J Mackay was comparing the British Hawk T.Mk1, acquired in the 1970s with a 1990s technology MB339. In late 1999, Mackay went on exchange to instruct Italian Air Force pilots on Air Combat Manoeuvring. During this period he flew the MB339. In his report, which he filed on returning to the UK, Mackay stated that if the avionics of the MB339 were combined with the Hawk's more agile airframe, it would provide an ideal lead-in training capability for Eurofighter-Typhoon. In October 2003, following an open competition, the UK Ministry of Defence announced that the RAF would replace its first-generation T.Mk1s -- with Hawk LIFTs. In his response Linden Birns said the RAF Hawk Mk128/LIFT, the latest evolution of the Hawk 100 Series, shared the same new Rolls-Royce/Turbomeca Adour 951 engine and many other features of their South African sisters.

While the motive of the paper in dredging up the stories are unclear, Lekota, in a letter to the paper wrote that the content of the articles as well as their dramatic presentation confirmed that "some in our country are intent on sustaining a fishing expedition to find fault with our government's Strategic Defence Acquisition." The paper reported the 24 aircraft would cost R624-million.

Lekota continues: "Not surprising also is the fact that you approached IFP (Inkatha Freedom Party, an opposition party) MP Gavin Woods to agree with you that 'something is seriously amiss.' You quote an expert, Mr (Helmoed) Romer Heitman (of Janes Defence Weekly), as correctly saying the Italian Aermacchi trainer we were offered does not compare with the British Hawk being acquired by the South African Air Force. Yet, in your article you restate the patent falsehood that 'the Aermacchi is better than the Hawk South Africa is buying.'" Heitman on Tuesday said the Hawk LIFT was incomparably better than the T.Mk1.

The paper again went on the offensive on Friday, saying South Africa was overpaying by at least US9.3-million a plane when compared to the US785- million the Royal Australian Air Force paid for its 33 Hawk 127s. Heitman was again quoted, this time saying there was little difference between the Hawk 127, 128 and LIFT. He also commented on the apparent price disparity, saying aircraft, like much else, became "cheaper by the dozen" as bulk discounts kicked in. Said the paper: "But the bulk-purchase discount theory holds little water with Dr Gavin Woods, the former chair of Parliament's Public Accounts Committee and a trained accountant. Woods said: 'The difference in price is so great that if the bulk discount explanation alone is the answer then we could have ordered another 10 Hawks and still incurred less expense. Bulk discounting cannot be the only answer for the extra costs." Birns again had an answer: "Recent local newspaper articles have questioned the suitability of the Hawk Lead-In Fighter Trainer (LIFT) for the SA Air Force's requirements. To support their assertions, these articles rely on unfair comparisons of unlike aircraft. There is no such thing as an 'off-the-shelf' Hawk 100 aircraft. Each marque is different and reflects the equipment specification to match the requirements of each customer. This is made possible largely through Hawk's unique 'open architecture' design, which enables the cockpit and operating systems to be configured similarly to those on the customers' front-line fighters," Birns said. "In December 1999, South Africa ordered 24 Hawk LIFT aircraft and 28 Gripen fighters from BAE Systems & Saab in a combined US2,2-billion package. BAE Systems & Saab are delivering US8,7-billion of new economic benefit to South Africa through a combination of direct and indirect investments, local and export sales, jobs and skills and technology transfers. South Africa's Hawk LIFT fleet will be equipped according to a specification that optimises the aircraft for preparing future Gripen pilots. The Royal Australian Air Force's Hawks are configured to train its future F/A-18 Hornet fighter pilots, while in the UK the new Hawk Mk128 will be used as a trainer for Eurofighter-Typhoon and Joint Strike Fighter pilots. Similarly, future US Navy F/A-18 Hornet pilots undertake their aircraft-carrier training on T-45 Goshawks (Hawks adapted for carrier operations and built by Boeing under licence)," Birns added. "The Hawk LIFT is a further enhanced and updated version of the Hawk 100 Series, incorporating changes to the avionics suite and associated aircraft systems originally developed by BAE Systems for the Royal Australian Air Force's (RAAF) Hawk.

Distinguishing features which set the South African Hawk LIFT apart from the similar-looking Australian Hawk are:
- the more powerful Rolls-Royce/Turbomeca Adour 951 turbofan engine producing additional thrust and providing increased intervals between overhauls (reducing maintenance costs);
- inclusion of a Full-Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC) system;
- inclusion of an in-flight refuelling system;
- increased airframe fatigue life due to structural enhancements;
- incorporation of an On-Board Oxygen Generator System (OBOGS);
- inclusion of a more powerful Auxiliary Power Unit (APU);
- new multi-function, interchangeable, colour cockpit displays in the front and rear cockpits. (They are configured to provide pilots with a cockpit environment similar to that which they will encounter on the Gripen fighter);
- inclusion of an advanced Head-Up Display presenting full navigation, air-to-air and air-to-ground weapon aiming formats for combat training;
- Hawk LIFT is compatible with Night Vision Goggles (NVG), giving the aircraft full 24-hour operational capability. (NVG combined with the Forward Looking Infra-Red (FLIR) sensor provides pilots with all-round situational awareness);
- different avionics, including the integration of a Global Positioning System (GPS) into the Inertial Navigation System (INS) (This increases overall navigation and weapons-delivery accuracy, vital for training. It also allows for additional features such as Ground Proximity Warning and Moving Map to be incorporated); and
- an enhanced embedded Health Usage & Monitoring System (this network of strain gauges built into the airframe, wings, tail and engine with their associated on-board computers monitor the fatigue and stress loads on the aircraft. It enables predictive maintenance, thereby reducing operating costs)."

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