£125m contract supports key training and local jobs 

A new £125m deal between Ascent and the MOD will ensure the continuation of training of key military aircrew – creating five new roles at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall and sustaining 43 local jobs across the supply chain.

Lasting three years, the Rear Crew Sustainment contract will run until July 2026, before being replaced by the Future Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) programme.

Ascent will deliver training from RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall, under the UK Military Flying Training System (UKMFTS), to Royal Navy observers and RAF Weapon Systems 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.

Royal Navy Observers operate on board Wildcat and Merlin helicopters over land or at sea. They can be the Mission Commander – which involves navigating and fighting the aircraft – and are the primary radar operator, while also controlling many of the sensors in the aircraft.

RAF Weapon Systems Officers manage the complex sensor and weapon systems across various platforms during operations, while gathering intelligence and supporting ground forces.

The Rear Crew Sustainment programme also addresses obsolescence issues, by replacing the current Tactical Mission Trainer Air, with a new Airborne Mission Trainer. The Avenger aircraft will be extensively modified to accommodate an Electronically Scanned Array Radar, an Electro Optical/ Infra Red Camera, and reconfiguration of the cabin area and mission consoles, extending its service life from 2023 to 2033. In addition, upgrades to the Ground Based Training Equipment – with enhanced synthetics and courseware – will ensure training system coherence.

As provider of the courseware and civilian instructors, Ascent will deliver these new capabilities in partnership with Babcock (ICT and infrastructure provider), Draken (aircraft service provider) and Lockheed Martin (synthetic training equipment provider). Lockheed Martin and Draken will also work closely to implement the aircraft modification package.

LM Airborne Mission Trainer
LM Airborne Mission Trainer

Ascent Managing Director, Tim James, said: “We are delighted to be awarded this latest contract from UK MOD DE&S to provide a comprehensive update and modernisation of our training aircraft, courseware and simulators for our UKMFTS Rear Crew programme.

“We are proud to be part of the RNAS Culdrose community where we work in partnership with our UKMOD customers and industry supply chain partners to deliver observer and mission aircrew training to the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force trainees and instructors.”

DE&S General Director Air, Vice Admiral Rick Thompson, said: “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.” 

Jonathon Wells, Air and Commercial Solutions Vice President at Lockheed Martin said: “We’re leveraging UK talent and technical innovation to deliver live flying training and simulation to prepare armed forces for the next-generation of military aircraft operations.”

Jo Rayson, Babcock’s Managing Director of Training, added: “Ascent is a trusted provider of military flying systems, and we’re proud to be playing an integral role in continuing to deliver training for the next generation of talented air crew.”

Paul Armstrong, CEO at Draken, commented: “The award of this contract will see Draken expand our existing team at RNAS Culdrose, a base we have had an association with for a number of years. We are honoured that the design and integration work Draken will deliver on the Airborne Mission Trainer – and our subsequent sustainment of the Rear Crew training aircraft – will pave the way for the next generation of observers and weapon systems operators.”