IAF torpedoes HAL plans to develop trainer aircraft

IAF torpedoes HAL plans to develop trainer aircraft

The Indian Air Force (IAF) on Thursday demolished Hindustan Aeronautics Limited’s “dream” of developing a basic trainer, making it clear that the service would prefer to use the recently acquired Pilatus PC-7, a tried-and-tested aircraft.

The IAF has made it clear that continued delays in the development of a slew of indigenously designed aircraft had left it with no other option.

At a press conference, Air Chief Marshal N A K Browne also pointed out that the intermediate jet trainer – under development at HAL and behind schedule by 10 years – had serious problems with its engines and was not acceptable in the current configuration.

Hours after HAL chairperson R K Tyagi said the public sector aviation major had dreams of developing a basic trainer called HPT-40 for the youngsters that would cost less than the imported Swiss trainer, Browne torpedoed his plans.

“HAL’s planned trainer will cost more than the Pilatus,” he said. “There is no need for it anyway. We should stick to only one trainer.” The IAF has purchased 75 Pilatus PC-7 aircraft at a cost of Rs 3,000 crore (523 million Swiss Francs).

The aircraft will take over the mantle from the IAF’s current fleet of HPT-32 trainers, which was grounded in 2009 after a series of technical problems. The first batch of two Pilatus aircraft arrived at the Indian Air Force Academy at Dundigal near Hyderabad on Saturday, from where they were flown to Bangalore for the show.

HAL defiant

Tyagi said the HAL board had given its approval to go ahead with HPT-40, which will be a “game changer” and “showcase product” from India. The defence PSU also plans to develop a weaponised version of the trainer for second stage training.

“India still holds a three-stage training programme with basic (Pilatus), intermediate (IJT, which is under development) and advanced jet trainer (Hawk) whereas the rest of the world has moved to two-stage training with basic and advanced trainer,” said T Souvarna Raju, director of design and development at the HAL.

The IAF is also cut up with the IJT programme, which began in the late 1990s and flew for the first time in 2003. Because of the huge time delay, Defence Minister A K Antony pulled up the HAL in public and asked the agency to make it fly once again by the next Aero India show in 2015.

“The life of IJT engine currently is 100 hours, which need to be enhanced to 1200-1500 hours,” Browne said.

“IJT had 647 flights so far, out of which 185 took place last year. As many as 25 flights happened in January. The limited series production is underway. We plan for an initial operational clearance by 2013-14, but our internal target for IOC is December, 2013,” said Tyagi.

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