As a leading entity representing the extensive Romanian tradition in the aero-nautical engineering, and, in pragmatic terms, as the recognized design authority for the IAR-99 program, the National Institute for Aerospace Research ”Elie Carafoli” – INCAS Bucharest holds a prominent role within the endowment program approved by the Supreme Council of National Defence (CSAT – Consiliul Suprem de Apărare a Ţării) that secures the modernization of the IAR-99 aircraft operated by the National Defence Ministry (MApN – Ministerul Apărării Naţionale), upgrading them to the IAR-99 SuperŞoim configuration.
In line with Romania’s essential national interests, the CSAT Decision no. 38 from April 4th, 2018, concerning the modernization of the IAR-99 fleet is intended to achieve first of all the competent training of Romanian pilots as part of the accommodation process to the multirole fighters F-16: the Romanian Air Force currently has 12 F-16 units that have already undergone an extensive Mid-Life Upgrade (MLU) program, and MApN recently initiated the procedures to acquire five more units, while also expressing its intention to expand the F-16 fleet with additional aircraft, depending on future opportunities.
The decision to modernize the IAR-99 trainers equally supports a strengthened national industrial capability that should secure the development, integration, homologation and production of competitive military aircraft, building on the Romanian tradition in the aeronautical industry. Following a project initiated in 1979, the Romanian subsonic jet trainer IAR-99 made its first appearance on December 21st, 1985, when the prototype S-001 had its inaugural flight, and it joined the Romanian Air Force fleet starting from 1988.
During the early years of the 1990s, the production of IAR-99 incorporated several changes to the original project – new equipment focused on optimized avionics, a new canopy with two sections with individual opening for each pilot station, new communication systems, monochrome displays replacing the analogic indicators, followed by the introduction of Multi-Function Color Displays (MFCD) -, but the most comprehensive modernization process was launched at the end of 1996, producing a configuration adjusted to the training of pilots for the MiG-21 LanceR aircraft. After this modernization program that led to the development of a redesigned cockpit and the adoption of an evolved mounting point system for an increased range of equipment and armament, IAR-99 became an advanced training aircraft with close air support capabilities, and was renamed IAR-99 Şoim in order to individualize this configuration in respect to the units previously produced. As a result, the Romanian National Defence Ministry currently operates of fleet comprising IAR-99 standard units and IAR-99 Şoim.
In its most recent iteration – with upgraded avionics, on-board mission computer, Head-up and Head-down displays, inertial navigation system / GPS, HOTAS (Hands On Throttle-And-Stick), VHF/UHF radio station, data-link with another aircraft and/or a ground station, virtual radar on board, and integrated training system – IAR-99 Şoim represents a solid base for the MLU modernization program developed within the partnership between INCAS Bucharest, the manufacturer Avioane Craiova S.A., and the Romanian Military Equipment and Technology Research Agency, an initiative that became active following the CSAT decision to modernize the IAR-99 fleet.
The consistent modernization to the IAR-99 SuperŞoim standard fulfills the scope of this five-year program, as part of a long term strategy that aims at operating an advanced training fleet for the next 15 years, with reduced operational and maintenance costs, while also improving the training quality and ensuring full compatibility with the F-16 multirole fighter aircraft. On a higher level, IAR-99 SuperŞoim will contribute to the successful integration of the most advanced technologies into the national aircraft production effort, addressing with a dynamic approach the specific requirements beyond 2030, while also boosting the maturation of the technical demonstrator IAR-99 TD, developed by INCAS Bucharest in order to validate the proper functioning of several complex systems. All this effort is directed at the production of a new generation of trainer aircraft, IAR-99 NG, capable to perform also light attack, ground combat support and air surveillance functions.
By reconfiguring its avionics and flight control systems, IAR-99 SuperŞoim further confirms its status as an advanced training platform for the development of the aptitudes and abilities needed for the successful and safe completion of missions performed with the F-16 multirole fighters. The modernized architecture includes new and improved systems, from an improved full glass cockpit with MFCDs to the new equipment for ECS (Environmental Control System) and LSS (Life Support System). The MLU program developed for IAR-99 SuperŞoim includes a new navigation system (Air Data, Embeded INS/GPS, RALT – EGIR), complemented by a new mission computer that operates in a dedicated architecture. The connectivity is improved with a wide interface range (MIL-STD 1553B, MIL-STD 1760, RS-422, ARINC, Ethernet), that provides, among other features, full integration with a complex training system (aircraft and simulators).
The improved training capabilities of IAR-99 SuperŞoim is based on improved virtual radar functions and modes, a new defensive management system and simulated tactical information, supported by a data-link connection with the aircraft’s control, commu–nication and management operations, and one key benefit for this comprehensive structure is represented by the significant economy in resource consumption: fuel, armament, service and maintenance hours. The optimized connectivity supports the training of maintenance teams in real conditions, simulated tactical environment scenarios, a real time debriefing according to the initial planning, training data recording and post-flight analysis.
With the launch of the modernization program, IAR-99 SuperŞoim promotes a configuration with improved equipment reliability, an update of the air fleet to the NATO interoperability standards, and an extended life-span for all concerned aircraft, but it should also be noted that it mobilizes on multiple levels the Romanian aeronautical industry, bringing together the traditional IAR-99 manufacturer, Avioane Craiova S.A., the design authority (INCAS Bucharest), and other relevant structures and entities: Aerostar, Aerofina, IAR Braşov, Romaero, STRAERO, COMOTI, Turbomecanica, Aerospace Services and Aerospace Consulting.
Moreover, this effort accelerates the development of the technical demonstrator IAR-99 TD, a complex initiative supported by INCAS Bucharest, concentrating on the functional validation of a new system architecture, appropriate for a new generation of advanced trainers. This new architecture has already successfully integrated an AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar, it improved the avionics with a full glass cockpit, and it is adopting a revised mounting system, including for air-to-air missiles, and a new steering system, while it is also in an advanced development stage for a dedicated air intake suitable for a new propulsion system.
The prototype developed with these reference features will be tested by the Research and Test Flight Center from Craiova, representing an essential step in the development in a long-term perspective of a new generation of training aircraft, IAR-99 NG, drawing on the experience recorded during the extensive operation of IAR-99, the first jet aircraft fully developed and manufactured in Romania.
INCAS – National Institute for Aerospace Research ‘Elie Carafoli’