On 20 January 2021, the Portuguese Defence Minister, Joao Gomes Cravinho, revealed the intention to establish an international military pilot training school.
As well as Italy (Scramble report 21 December 2020) and Greece,(Scramble report 5 January 2021) Portugal has also begun to consider training national and international fighter pilots at home. Therefore, the MoD is looking at a partnership with a private firm to contract out the purchase of the training systems, with an agreement similar to that signed between Athens and Elbit Systems.
Portugal's plan aims to involve those European nations in the project that are modernizing their combat aircraft fleet, but lack the resources to train their pilots at home. The idea is to join forces and avoid pilots having to cross the Atlantic to train in the United States or Canada.
According to Cravinho, the programme will be established at Beja air base, where the sky is blue 300 days a year, a very important factor for training. No details were given about the type of aircraft that will be used.
Rumours indicate that the EMBRAER Super Tucano and/or the Leonardo M346 Master are candidates. It is even possible that both types will be introduced in order to cover more phases of training. The two aircraft were recently included in the SkyTech website which is the Portuguese private company to which the programme will probably be contracted.
Already back in January 2019, Portugal considered leasing an advanced trainer aircraft from an external provider to train pilots of the Portuguese Air Force. The air force had been struggling with training its fighter pilots since the Alpha Jets' retirement in early 2018, sending some crews to the United States as an interim solution.
The Portuguese General Manuel Teixeira Rolo, Chief of the Portuguese Air Force, said in 2019 that the US option is not viable in the long term and that they are considering a "power by the hour" contract with a local provider. He specifically named SkyTech, a sister company of leasing specialist Hi Fly, as the company to acuire and operate the aircraft. Involvement of other European nations would be essential for the success of the project. The project failed to materialize until now.
In November 2020, Scramble Magazine reported that the Portuguese Air Force was interested in the EMB314 Super Tucano as a possible replacement for the Alpha Jet. The type was demonstrated at Monte Real (Base Aerea 5) to the Portuguese military.
One would think that these initiatives within NATO would be more coordinated. Time will tell ....
Photos: Leonardo and Filipe Cruz