RAF News

£125 million air crew training contract supports UK jobs in the Southwest

A £125 million contract to deliver vital mission aircrew training has been awarded which will support around 50 UK jobs across the Southwest.

The training, which will take place at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall under the UK Military Flying Training System (UKMFTS), will ensure the continuation of training to key members of Mission Aircrew prior to the introduction of a new system in 2026.

This critical venture will prepare Royal Navy observers and RAF weapon system officers to operate onboard Poseidon, Rivet Joint, Wildcat and Merlin aircraft.


Training will be conducted by a collaboration of civilian instructors and military staff operating from 750 Naval Air Squadron. The continuation of this contract will also create five new roles at RNAS Culdrose and sustain 43 jobs across the supply chain, delivering on the Prime Minister's priority of growing the economy.

Lasting three years, the contract will run until June 2026 when the future intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) and Rear Crew Training System (FIRCTS) programme replaces it.

“It is through our talented people and our partnerships with industry that we can deploy cutting-edge capabilities wherever they are required. Not only will the new Rear Crew contract ensure the continuation of a vital intelligence gathering capability, but also secure dozens of jobs in the south-west.”

James Cartlidge
Minister for Defence Procurement

By replacing the current training system with a new Airborne Mission Trainer, the Rear Crew Sustainment programme will keep aircraft in service for longer. The Avenger aircraft that is currently used will be extensively modified to accommodate an electronically scanned array radar, an electro optical camera, and reconfiguration of the cabin area and mission consoles, extending its service life 10 years from 2023 to 2033.

Additional upgrades to the ground-based training equipment will ensure better coherence across training systems.

“The provision of this contract will ensure the continuation of the critical training required for the production of qualified mission aircrew needed for front line duties.” 

Vice Admiral Rick Thompson
DE&S General Director Air

Rear crew observers in the Royal Navy are a key part of a flight crew on board Wildcat and Merlin helicopters, where they are expected to navigate, operate communications systems and on occasions control the weaponry.

RAF Weapon Systems Officers manage the sensors and weapons of their aircraft during operational missions, whilst at the same time gathering intelligence and supporting forces on the ground.

“This contract award is a major achievement by the UKMFTS Delivery Team, in collaboration with our industry colleagues. The continuation of Mission Aircrew training at RNAS Culdrose and obsolescence removal programme over the next three years will pave the way for the Future ISTAR and Rear Crew Training System (FIRCTS), which will significantly uplift the training system capability and capacity.”

Michelle Ostergaard
UKMFTS team leader at DE&S

The contract has been awarded to Ascent Flight Training, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin UK and Babcock International.