Saturday, August 3, 2013

IAF's indigenous dreams go sour as major hiccups mar development of aircrafts by HAL

The Indian Air Force's indigenous dream appears to have gone sour as all major projects for home production of key aircraft are showing symptoms of distress.

IAF chief NAK Browne in a letter to Defence Minister A.K. Antony had highlighted the delays and high costs in the development of basic trainer aircraft required urgently for rookie pilots, but these are not the only areas of concern.

HAL's programme for developing Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT) is facing serious turbulence and the aircraft maker's decision to reduce its work share in the joint development of fifth generation fighter aircraft with the Russians has raised eyebrows as it will have a bearing on the costs of the project.

To top it all, hiccups concerning the development of light combat aircraft have been discussed threadbare at various levels forcing Antony to fix a final deadline.

Sources said the IAF was pushed to the wall on the uncertainties involving the development of basic aircraft trainer (BTA) by HAL as ambiguity surrounded the future of the project.

The defence ministry's own assessment till last year said it was better to shut the project.

The IAF has a requirement of 181 basic trainers to effectively run its training programme. It has already ordered 75 Swiss Pilatus PC-7 basic trainers for Rs.2,896 crore. The remaining aircraft were to be provided by HAL which is developing HTT-40.

With HTT-40 still not in sight despite assurances, the IAF wants the government to initiate process for importing more Swiss PC-7s. It has an option to give follow on order for 38 Swiss PC-7s and has suggested that HAL can licence produce the remaining aircraft. HAL is already licence producing a number of aircraft and would be making the new multi-role fighters as well.

But HAL has been insisting on developing HTT-40 and has promised to complete the project within the next three years.

The research and development cost of HTT-40 is around Rs.600 crore, 80 per cent of which is being borne by the IAF.

There are also reports that HTT-40 is based on Beechcraft aircraft which had taken part and lost the competition for IAF's BTA as it emerged to be the most expensive of the three finalists - the other two being Swiss PC-7 and Korean KT-1.

The basic trainers are required urgently as Kiran MK I aircraft being used currently are scheduled to phase out in 2014.

Also the experience with the earlier HAL-produced trainer HPT-32 had been bad. Instructors had refused to fly the aircraft as they had become unsafe.

The IAF suggested duplicity of trainers should be avoided and a fresh case should be pushed for purchase of 106 additional PC-7 MK II trainers. The IAF's training programme has been a story of troubles and the trouble only seems to get bigger.

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