The Hawk entered RAF service in April 1976, replacing the Folland Gnat and Hawker Hunter for advanced training and weapons training. The Hawk T1 was the original version used by the RAF, deliveries commencing in November 1976. The most famous users of the Hawk are the Red Arrows aerobatic team, who adopted the plane in 1979.
From 1983 to 1986, some Hawks were equipped as short-range interceptor aircraft. 88 T1s were modified to carry two AIM-9L Sidewinder air-to-air missiles in addition to a 30 mm ADEN cannon gun pod; these aircraft were redesignated as Hawk T1A. In a wartime scenario, they would have worked in collaboration with the RAF's Tornado F3 interceptors, which would use their Foxhunter search radars and more sophisticated navigation systems to vector the Hawks against enemy targets.
The Hawk subsequently replaced the English Electric Canberra for target towing duties. The Royal Navy acquired a dozen Hawk T1/1As from the RAF; these are typically operated in a support role, often to conduct simulated combat training onboard ships.
During the 1990s and 2000s, 80 Hawk T1/1A aircraft were upgraded under the Fuselage Replacement Programme (FRP) to extend their operational lifespan; sections of the centre and rear fuselage sections were entirely replaced. In 2009, the RAF began receiving the first Hawk T2, in the long term, T2 aircraft will replace the ageing T1s. Training operations on the Hawk T2 began in April 2012.
In August 2011, a Red Arrows pilot was killed when his Hawk T1 crashed following a display at the Bournemouth Air Festival, the inquest found "G-force impairment" may have caused the pilot to lose control; the Hawk T1 fleet was grounded as a precautionary measure and returned to flight status a few days later. In November 2011, the Red Arrows suffered another pilot fatality when the Martin-Baker Mk.10 ejection seat fitted to the Hawk T1 activated while the aircraft was stationary; the veteran combat pilot died on ground impact when the ejector seat parachute also failed to deploy. This resulted in the UK Ministry of Defence implementing a ban on non-essential flying in aircraft fitted with ejector seats similar to those fitted in the Hawk T1 after the death. The ban was lifted for Tornado attack jets but remained on Hawk T1, Hawk T2 and Tucano flights while the RAF reviewed evidence on those aircraft.
In January 1978, Britain and Finland announced a deal to in which the Finnish Air Force was to receive 50 Hawk Mk. 51s in 1980; these aircraft were built in Finland under licence by Valtion lentokonetehdas. The Finnish Air Force was limited to 60 first-line fighter aircraft by the Paris Peace Treaty of 1947; by acquiring Hawks, which counted as trainers rather than fighters, capacity could be increased while continuing treaty compliance. These conditions were nullified at the break-up of the Soviet Union.
Seven additional Mk. 51As were delivered in 1993–94 to make up for losses. In June 2007, Finland arranged to purchase 18 used Hawk Mk. 66s from the Swiss Air Force for 41 million euros; they were delivered in 2009–2010. Finnish Hawks have reportedly been armed with Russian Molniya R-60/AA-8 air-to-air missiles. The Finnish Air Force aerobatics team, the Midnight Hawks, also uses the aircraft.
Due to rising levels of metal fatigue, 41 out of 67 in Finland's total Hawk fleet will be taken out of service between 2012–2016; the remaining aircraft are younger and thus are expected to be flying into the 2030s. In 2011, Finnish Mk. 51s and Mk. 66s underwent upgrades, including a new Patria Cockpit 2000 glass cockpit and new software.
On 23 February 2008, the Hawk Mk. 132 formally entered service with the Indian Air Force (IAF), after one of the most protracted procurements in India's history, two decades having elapsed between the initial interest and the contract signing on 26 March 2004. The IAF received 24 aircraft directly from BAE Systems with deliveries beginning in November 2007, and further 42 Hawks assembled by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited between 2008 and 2011. In February 2008, India planned to order 57 more Hawks, with 40 going to the Indian Air Force and the remaining 17 to the Indian Navy.
In July 2010, it was announced that the IAF and the Navy would receive the additional 57 aircraft. The additional aircraft will be all built in India by Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL), continuing to work under licence from BAE. On 10 February 2011, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and GE Aviation signed a contract under which GE Aviation will conduct the next 30 years of maintenance on the Hawk fleet. In 2011, the IAF was reportedly unhappy with the provision of spare components; In December 2011, BAE received a contract to provide India with spares and ground support.
The Hawk fleet is based at IAF's Bidar station in north Karnataka, about 700 km from Bangalore.
As of 2015, a total of 123 aircraft were ordered by the Indian Air Force and 17 by the Indian Navy. An additional order of 20 aircraft is being negotiated.
In April 1978, Indonesia, seeking to increase its aerial capabilities, placed the first of multiple orders for the Hawk. The Indonesian Air Force received more than 40 Hawks in the 1980s and 1990s In June 1991, BAe and Indonesian Aerospace (IPTN) signed a major agreement for collaborative production of the Hawk, and more orders of the Hawk were anticipated. Further Hawk exports were eventually blocked due to concerns over Indonesian human rights, particularly in East Timor. During the 90's protests erupted across England over arming Indonesia and pressure increased after the mass-murder of the Balibo Five journalists and Roger East came to light and the use of Hawk's being crucial in the Indonesian invasion of East Timor which led to 80,000 dead by most conservative Indonesian estimates.
The Hawks have been the backbone of Indonesian Air Force, supplementing more advanced and expensive aircraft such as the F-16 Fighting Falcon. In September 2013 the Indonesian Air Force began receiving the KAI T-50 Golden Eagle which will replace the Hawk in service.
The Royal Malaysian Air Force (Malay: Tentera Udara Diraja Malaysia) has 19 Hawk aircraft, consisting of four Hawk 108 export versions as training aircraft and 14 Hawk 208 as combat aircraft. On 5 March 2013, during the 2013 Lahad Datu standoff, five Hawk 208 together with three American-made Boeing F/A-18D Hornets were employed in airstrikes on hideouts of the terrorist group Royal Security Forces of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo in Lahad Datu, Sabah ahead of the ground assault by joint forces of the Malaysian Army and Royal Malaysian Police.
In the 1980s, 12 BAE Hawk T.Mk. 60/60As were purchased for the Air Force of Zimbabwe; the purchase was supported by a £35 million loan from the UK to Zimbabwe. The Hawk deal also included the transfer of a number of used Hawker Hunters. In July 1982, at least one Hawk was destroyed on the ground and three more heavily damaged during a dissident attack on Thornhill air base, Gweru.
Zimbabwe's Hawks were used during the Second Congo War. Numerous airstrikes were conducted in support of the Congolese Army against Rwandan, Ugandan and rebel forces in 1998–2000. In 2000, the controversy over Zimbabwe's military intervention in the Congo and poor human rights record led to Britain imposing a total arms embargo on the nation, including spare parts for the Hawk. Due to the embargo, Zimbabwe has purchased six Chinese Hongdu K-8s as a substitute.
During the 1980s, a prospective sale of 63 Hawk trainers to Iraq was considered by the British government. While the proposal had its proponents, it was controversial as in a ground-attack capacity Iraq might have employed the Hawk against neighbouring Iran and to oppress Iraq's own Kurdish population; there was also concern that the Hawk could be potentially armed with chemical weapons. After considerable deliberation the sale was blocked. In 2010, Iraq entered talks with BAE for an order of up to 21 Hawks.
Saudi Arabia arranged to acquire the Hawk under the Al-Yamamah arms deal with Britain; a total of 50 Hawk Mk. 65/65A were ordered under two orders placed in 1985 and 1994 respectively. In August 2012, a roughly $800 million deal for 22 Hawk 'Advanced Jet Trainers' was announced; these are to replace the older models of Hawks in the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF). The RSAF also has a demonstration team that flies the Hawk.
In 1993, talks between BAe and South Africa's Denel Aviation began regarding a replacement for the South African Air Force (SAAF)'s ageing Atlas Impala fleet. By 2004, Denel had begun construction of Hawks under licence from BAe; components for other customers have also been produced by Denel. On 13 January 2005, the first locally assembled Hawk conducted its first flight; it belonged to a batch of 24 trainers ordered by the SAAF.