LONDON — The expectation that the British Royal Air Force’s new readiness training program will officially get underway at the end of this month saw two of the likely contenders for the business announce developments at the DSEI show, which opened in London, England, on Sept. 12.

Executives at the annual conference said they expected the Ministry of Defence to issue a pre-qualification questionnaire to industry on the Air Support to Defence Operational Training program, or ASDOT, around the end of the month to get it officially on the road.

Saab came to the show with a full-size mock-up of a slightly modified Gripen fighter, known as the Aggressor, saying it is initially targeting the Air Force’s ASDOT and similar programs in the U.S. as a possible market for the jet in an adversarial role.

Saab unveils Gripen Aggressor with eyes toward UK or US

Adapting the Gripen C fighter, Saab hopes the Gripen Aggressor might be a contender for Britain's Air Support to Defence Operational Training requirement, and part of the U.S. Air Force's Adversary Air opportunity. The company's Gripen test pilot shares more with Defense News Executive Editor Jill Aitoro.

The company is offering an unarmed version of the Gripen C jets in the high-end aggressor role, in single or twin-seat configuration.

Richard Smith, the head of marketing and sales for Gripen, told reporters during a briefing at DSEI that legacy fighters employed by many air forces for aggressor training were no longer up to the job.

Air forces also need to use dissimilar aircraft to the fighter fleets with which they operate to get the best value from training, he said.

Smith declined to talk about with whom Saab might partner in order to meet ASDOT or the U.S. Air Force and upcoming U.S. Navy requirements.

Meanwhile, Leonardo announced it was joining the upcoming multiphase ASDOT competition by throwing its hand in with a Discovery Air Defence-Inzpire team, which formed earlier this year.

The U.K. arm of Leonardo brings simulation, electronic warfare and MoD program delivery skills to the program.

Aircraft selection by the new team is pending, according to officials.

Leonardo’s M-346 jet trainer has previously been touted as a potential contender for the aggressor element of the program.

ASDOT is a program to provide so-called red air adversaries for British Typhoon and F-35 pilots along with live electronic warfare, simulation and other training elements for the Royal Air Force and the other armed services.

The capability is currently supplied by a combination of contractor Cobham special mission-managed aircraft and systems and Royal Air Force Hawk jet trainers.

Cobham announced in July it was partnering with Draken International to bid for the requirement in an attempt to keep a hold of a program expected to be worth about £1.2 billion (U.S. $1.6 billion).

Other contenders include a consortium made up of Qinetiq, Thales and Textron AirLand. The group declared its hand last year. Textron’s Scorpion jet would provide the aggressor element of the bid.

The current deal expires at the end of 2019; so as things stand, a new arrangement will need to start being operational by early 2020.

Although there were questions about the availability of funding for the 15-year program earlier in the year, executives say that issue appears to have been resolved.

Like many in industry, however, ASDOT contenders will likely still be nervously watching the outcome of a financially driven, capability-based MoD review, which could see programs fall victim to cuts.