Checking out the Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT) at HAL, Bangalore - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Thursday 27 March 2008

Checking out the Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT) at HAL, Bangalore

(Photos: courtesy Ajai Shukla)
An IJT prototype in its hangar at HAL Bangalore; Ajai Shukla with some of the designers in the IJT project.

Sitting in the hangar at HAL Bangalore in its red and white livery, the IJT (also known as the Hindustan Jet Trainer, HJT-36) makes a handsome picture. A first glance brings to mind the Czech L-159 Advanced Jet Trainer, but flight hangar chief, Vishwanath Rao, asserts vigorously that the IJT has been designed ground-up at HAL using advanced CAD/CAM techniques.

Trainee Indian Air Force (IAF) and Indian Navy (IN) pilots will train on the IJT after completing basic training on the obsolescent, piston-engine HPT-32 basic trainer, in which the instructor and the trainee sit side-by-side. The IJT will replace the Kiran trainer, bridging the gap between the HPT-32 and the newly inducted Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) jets. For that reason, the flight characteristics of the IJT have been tailored to lie midway between the HPT-32 piston-engine basic trainer and the Hawk AJT.

Climbing into the aircraft, the first thing that strikes one is the view from the rear seat, which is far superior to AJTs like the Hawk. The raised rear cockpit gives the IJT its “L-159-type look”, but then other differences in the fuselage become quickly apparent. The real selling point, though, is the cockpit instrumentation, which takes the IJT into the front ranks of Stage-2 trainers.

Sitting in the cockpit, the complexity of the display is far closer to an AJT than to a basic trainer. HAL engineers insist, though, that flying the IJT will be simpler than the Kiran. The cockpit design philosophy is to allow the pilot to fly by “feel”, even while providing a more “instrumented” cockpit environment, to prepare for flying the AJT.

I’ve sat in a Kiran cockpit; I can confirm that the IJT is from a different planet. It is a wonderfully crafted, fully glass cockpit, but the Multi-Function Displays (MFDs) are very different from more complex aircraft. Here, the screen provides a digitised image of conventional flight instrumentation; the altitude indicator, airspeed indicator, turn-and-bank indicator, etc, are displayed on the MFD. This gives the trainee a feel of the glass cockpit environment, even before graduating from traditional instrumentation.

All three cockpit MFDs are identically constructed and wired, allowing the instructor to project any information he likes into the trainee’s cockpit. It allows the instructor to simulate flight emergencies, by keying in instrument malfunctions from his rear cockpit. In case of a real MFD failure, the instrumentation can be switched to either of the other two MFDs. This allows redundancy in terms of flight safety, while easing inventory management.

Based on growing confidence during testing, all the instrumentation is now being moved onto just two MFDs, including angle of attack information.

The IJT, on which work began in 1999, has seen the fastest design cycle in any Indian-built aircraft, and it compares favourably with international design cycle times. About 150 design and manufacture stations were used, relying heavily on Computer Aided Design (CAD) 3-Dimensional modelling. Metal cutting began in 2001, and the first flight took place in 2003. HAL engineers claim that it took just 20 months from metal cutting to flight.

HAL also takes pride in the way it squeezed the design cycle time by dovetailing the stages of design, tooling and manufacture. The IJT project engineers say that design drawings were released almost as they were completed, allowing the jigs to be designed and manufactured almost concurrently. As the contours of the IJT were defined, the jig designs were done and the manufacture of the prototypes, therefore, could get underway without any delay.

The design team admits to a series of design problems that had to be overcome. At first, the controls of the IJT were heavy; the design team had to entirely rework the shape of the nose. As the aircraft weight went up, the need for more engine power arose. But the initial specifications of the IJT had deliberately kept the weight low, giving the designers some margin for the inevitable rise in weight during design. As one engineer told me, “When you design an aircraft, it will always end up heavier than what you planned, so the lower the weight you target initially, the lower the final weight will be.”

The engine issue is still being sorted out. The first three IJTs currently use the Snecma Larzac engine, which is also used in the Alpha Jet. HAL bought those three engines from Snecma for the development phase; NPO Saturn was still developing the Russian AL-55I engine in Russia, which will power the production version IJTs. The AL-55I has 20% more thrust than the Larzac. In 2005, HAL and Rosoboronexport signed a $350 million contract to build 250 AL-55I engines under license in HAL, with an option for 1000 more.

The IAF has already ordered the Limited Series Production (LSP) of 12 IJTs. HAL says that the first of them will roll out in 2008-2009. The production rate will go up to 12 per year by 2010. By mid-2010, HAL expects the IJT to be fully certified; at that stage series production will start. In 2011, the IJT is likely to begin its induction into service as a full-fledged trainer for cadets.

HAL estimates that the sale price of the IJT will be around $10 million per aircraft. That will make it the most competitively priced intermediate trainer in the world.


  1. nice article. the IJT Sitara had not been in the news for good reasons for a while. Its a little disappointing that you did'nt mention how the Russians have delayed the program thanks to the delay in the availability of the AL-55I engine.

    Could you also tell us whether the IJT that had an accident during Aero-India was a write-off or whether it could be repaired and put back into flight testing? Is any flight testing going on or are they waiting till the AL-55I comes on board to continue tests?

  2. Will the Larzac power the 12 LSPs until the AL-55I is ready or will the rollout of LSPs be delayed until the AL-55I is complete?

  3. Ajai,

    Is it true that ur collegue "Planeboy" has flown all those fighter jets or was he only having a piggyback ride? I am asking this coz I never saw him in his programs on NDTV fiddling with the controls while the flight is on but he boasted that he did fly those machines on Bharat Rakshak forums.

  4. adding to my previous comment.

    btw, i dont think those Russians, Americans,Europeans are fools to let a journo play with their million dollar babies. Dont u think so?

  5. Shh.. Don't remind him about the Russians and the engine fiasco. This was a feel good trip courtesy HAL for Ajai to help HAL come out smelling of roses.

  6. 'to help HAL come out smelling of roses.'

    Do you imply that HAL doesn't deserve the full credit for anything worthwhile that it produces? From what Ajai says they seem to have done a nice job. Good article, Ajai, btw.

    The term 'smelling of roses' gives the impression that you look down on PR. Individuals and countries alike practise PR with varying success.

    Most of what we learn about the US (or for that matter any other country, including India) is also a result of PR.

  7. Ajaiji, some questions:

    1. Any idea what the full production rate will be??
    2. Also, more info about the AI-07 Crash and the state of that aircraft.
    3. How many new aircraft will fly this year?
    4. Have Surya Kirans placed a confirmed order for 16 IJTs or is it a letter of Intent?
    5. Is the IJT name confirmed to be Sitara, or is that just a rumor?
    6. Simulated scenario, sensor and weapons training - Is the IJT able to create simulated sensor data, like virtual radars and SAMs in order to better train the pilots in Air combat Maneuvering and Tactics?

    Any information about the combat capabilities of the IJT would be welcome, seeing as how we offered it (somewhat embarrassingly) to the Sri Lankans to combat the LTTE.

    Thanks in Advance (TIA)

  8. Also forgot to ask, Any updates on CAT and LIFT??? or have they been scrapped after the Hawk Follow up order?

    Any idea or info u picked up about the MCA project and the FGFA?

  9. I don't think it would be fair to say that "the Russians have delayed the programme thanks to the AL-55I engine."

    HAL decided at an early stage of the project to go in for the Larzac as a stopgap measure until the AL-55I was productionised. A decision could equally have been taken to start looking for another engine. The only issue there is that there isn't another engine that produces the same thrust as the AL-55I... for the same size. And if you go in for a bigger engine... you would have to re-engineer the IJT to an unacceptable degree.

    This is always a hazard in deciding to go in for a technology that is still being developed. But the AL-55I, from what I understand, will be ready in time for it to power the 12 LSP IJTs.

    Anonymous, I don't comment on my colleagues. Not on this blog, not anywhere. I deal in defence news, not gossip.

    The trip, incidentally, was not "courtesy HAL". It is Business Standard policy to pay for all trips that its journalists undertake. This one was no exception. Incidentally, HAL, DRDO, and the military in general are attempting a more "open" policy towards the press. I'm not the only journalist that they allow into the premises.

    "Smelling of roses"... Ha Ha. If it's not too much trouble, read what I've written in the past about HAL and DRDO.

    Sniperz, I'm working on articles that will answer the very valid questions you have put... on issues of HAL technology development, DRDO technology development... and the Arjun trials that are underway.

    Give me a week or so plz.

  10. Thanks a lot Ajaiji, will look forward to them.

    If I may be allowed to answer Anon's question (which I'd use Hanlons Razor of Ignorance over malice), its not easy to truly fly an aircraft, which is what makes good pilots so rare and expensive to produce.

    However, with the present aircraft, controlling them is not that difficult. there is a large egree of tolerence and forgiveness incorporated into these birds that makes controlling them easy - in effect, its a computer that flies the aircraft, and you only tell the computer what to do, and it decides whether that action is safe or not. Anyone who knows to use the joystick can control the aircraft, but flying it is a different matter altogether.

    As for your point about not seeing him control it, I suspect that the times he was controlling the camera could obviously not be used to control the aircraft and vice versa. Plus, the camera never showed the joystick, so I dont think you could see him fly it even if he was.

    and P.S., the journalist's name is Vishnu Som.

  11. Ajai,

    Glad to hear about the policy of business standard. I think it is a very high quality newspaper and is easily the best business paper in India. I subscribe to it and its coverage of capital markets (important to me and thats why I buy it) and business news is easily the best. I really don't care too much about the "business analysis" part of most papers, but there too the business standard is very good. TN Ninan and the rest of the folks there are top drawer and they are doing a fantastic job of running the paper on clean professional and high quality lines unlike a notable competitor which is now plunging headlong into becoming a pink tabloid, with only the page three missing..

    The comment that you responded to was mine , btw. Rest assured that I did come across your "opinions" to put it delicately (okay, misinformed , ridiculous and illogical rants actually, and I dare say that if you go back and read some of those objectively, you would agree with that assessment), in a certain place called BR . However I still maintain that this was a "feel good" trip and you didnt go beyond the obvious (or maybe you did , but didn't write/print it, which in effect is the same).

    To be honest with you, I think you are investing the effort and showing the will to grow as a defense journalist beyond the pathetic state of the vast majority of your colleagues in that field (I am sure you know the word DDM). That is very positive and I wish you all the luck and success in your career going forward. Frankly I had pretty low expectations , going by your early writings, but you have persevered and grown. Always applaud that.

  12. Ajai,
    Who is your principle employer - NDTV or Business Standard?

  13. ohh.. ok.. now i know why u ignored the question about the Sitara when I asked u earlier. In fact even another guy asked but u didn't reply.. I was thinking it was shelved or something..

    Thanks alot anyway 4 the article. I'm waiting for the answers to the questions (Wikipedian) Sniperz11 has asked. Its about what Itoo wanna know. Thanx again!

    But i was wondering why wait for the russians? if they can't deliver on time, get the engine from GE or P&W or RR.. or somebody else.. Why should HAL wait and keep the plane a sitting duck?

    Its not that only Saturn has capability 2 manufacture such an engine..

  14. Vina,

    I will leave the argument for another day and place, and I'm more than willing to accept criticism personally. But rest assured that when anyone vilifies an entire group --- the DDM phrase for example --- I will defend the press. I will do so because the average intelligence levels that I have encountered in the press (we're talking averages here) are far higher than what I've encountered on sites like Bharat Rakshak, where a bunch of self-appointed high priests use dodgy logic to bludgeon any acolytes who happen to step out of line.

    Thanks for your kind words about how I've developed as a journalist, but I haven't abandoned the views that I put forward earlier on BR. I still believe that the GSQRs of the Arjun tank are misconceived (given the operational environment in which we will fight), and I still believe that the project management skills in most of our high profile project --- like the Arjun and the LCA, to name just two --- have been sadly lacking. I've come to realise that issues like these are not what most people on BR even notice. They would much rather beat the drum of indigenous development of hardware, doesn't matter whether it's needed, whether it's cost-effective, or whether it fits into a larger vision of national defence.

    In answer to the question about who my "principal employers" are: I don't have any principal employers! I work for Biz Standard; I work for NDTV; I make films independently; I do consultancy work with anyone I consider appropriate. I'm a media consultant at large.



    ya.. they look rather similar... but sitara is much more refined. perhaps this is d std look of jet trainers.
    N pls post the answer to snipers11's questions here too.

  16. sniperz11,

    Do u know about the lates advancements in filiming techinques? NDTV which claims to be techwise cud have emloyed them to film Vishnu Som fiddling with the controls. I bet the guy was only having a piggyback ride.

  17. Hi Ajai,
    You make some very pertinent points on BR & self-appointed high priests - who believe in ideology & shrillness. For those who still disagree, I would like to highlight the monumental disaster US finds itself in Iraq & Afghanistan, because ideology & self righteousness trumped rational decision making.

    I think many people including you (if I remember right) have commented that most DPSU have not been proactive in assimilating foreign technology.

    Do you see that changing in any DPSU? Also with increasing competition from private players, is there any change in DPSU attitudes?

    Thanks & keep up the good work.


  18. hey dude, how do you get access to those HAL facilities? know any insiders?

  19. Ajai Shukla: "HAL estimates that the sale price of the IJT will be around $10 million per aircraft. That will make it the most competitively priced intermediate trainer in the world."

    I thought the Czech Aero L-159 is only $8mil! What's this one's pros in comparison wit that?

  20. Shukla,

    About BRF,the kind of folks BRF attracts and post on a regular basis is very high quality and they come from a very diverse background, scientists, engineers (vast number of disciplines), doctors, IT,economics, business, foreign affairs and strategy and of course the military types and enthusiasts. Many of them live and work abroad (or have done that for sizeable amount of time) and have a much wider experience and world view beyond just India. The quality of the posts there are usually top notch.. That is not something I can say about the journalist fraternity, esp in defense in India. Mass media as a rule has to be dumbed down/toned down (to cater to the masses), but that doesn't condone basic bloopers , gross incompetence , and worse, unprofessional and unethical behavior..

    About "self appointed gatekeepers" as you call them, you are going to face them in any situation when you challenge entrenched thinking and positions, but the solution is to persevere and make logical sense on which folks can agree on. In fact,even before the media got on to the bash DRDO band wagon, I had done it in BR, and I dare say so have others before me as well, and of course had run ins with the gate keepers. Nothing new there. Stuff that everyone takes for gospel now.. structural reforms, private participation, program mgmt, user involvement, joint/collab development ,concurrent engineering,.. everything was discussed threadbare before the DDM even started talking.. For a long time the media couldn't even think beyond garbage about stuff like "Arjun cant' shoot straight, it overheats, it cant fire FSAPDS, it cant fire missile.. it is unreliable.." and similar stuff about LCA and all the rest of it. much of that rubbish, not even factual and really recycled stuff from mid 80s/to mid 90s and not even current, or some opinion of some former army/airforce/whatever guy involved in the project some 10 years ago being passed of as gospel, rather than actual legwork (which you are doing lately) to do research and get facts and then informed pieces..

  21. Vina,

    Ajai is entitled to his opinions, notwithstanding the fact that he has done some really good work projecting indigenous development objectively, when most of his colleagues start sniffing failures where there are none (eg. questioning recent agni/K-15 successes) and splash it on the front page like a tabloid with no follow up whatsoever and try to plant seeds of doubt about indigenous capabilities in the minds of the masses. Its good that you are trying to reason with him otherwise about BR and its mission, but lets move on.

  22. The kind of research people put in BRF to bolster their argument is so value creating, just reading the posts makes one understand the issue from all perspectives. I have been lurking there for 8 years now, I don't post there but just enjoy the vast library of technical and non-tech materials regarding Indian security issues. After reading some of the articles there I really find some of the news reports in mainstream media "DDM". The reason I visit this forum is that I can get good quality info, thats all I care for.

  23. This plane is naiiicccee!! I laik it!

  24. Vina,

    I'll just say one thing to close this discussion from my end: you and I, even while disagreeing, are having a perfectly civil discussion. I don't think that is possible on BR. Over there (and this is not just my viewpoint) it is either an unquestioning loyalty to anything developed in India... or it's the highway.

    Sorry, but that's not how I do it. I value the right to question the system, even when it's embarrassing to someone. And if that makes someone say: he's in the pay of Pakistan, or France, or Russia, or the US... all I can say is, bye, mate.

    I absolutely agree that the press writes dumbed down stuff.. but are you surprised? Would you expect a technical article on a fighter project to grace a national newspaper in any country? To make such information accessible to the lay reader, it HAS to be dumbed down. I agree that it must be dumbed down without losing relevance and meaning; that is a skill which we in the media must strive for.

    I will also defend my colleagues by pointing out that the quality of defence reporting is improving dramatically. It's still not technically adept, but it's a lot --- and I mean a lot --- better than it was, say, five years ago.

    You're probably right in saying that question marks are sometimes unkindly raised... and that's probably because of the newsroom ethos that bad news is good news.

    But it would be really easy to argue that the DRDO has been supported by Mera Bharat Mahan types, far beyond the point up to which it deserved to be. The almost unanimous view in the DRDO itself today is that it needs to be far more focused in choosing its projects... that's something that features in the report that has been completed recently. The BR-type unquestioning support of the DRDO has supported a completely avoidable dissipation of effort and funding.

    But this is a debate that will continue... as India charts its path to defence self-sufficiency. And I'll be on that journey, both criticising... and praising... where I think it's required.


  25. Shukla,

    About DRDO, while they definitely will have to share their burden of the reasons for poor performance, the problem is far deeper. It is a systemic and structural problem.In fact given the way the entire defense procurement is organized, and with the huge command economy/socialist edifice driven mill stone that they have to carry and the inevitable problems and structural issues that come from being a typical govt org with multiples pulls and pressures and lack of direction., it is actually amazing that they managed to even achieve what they have until now. In fact, I think they are far more sinned against than sinning. They are just an easy target and a sitting duck on whom it is easy to direct fire. While that might make some feel better, it is going to solve and achieve zilch , without getting the rest of the system fixed..

    About DRDO's focus or lack of it, part of the reason why they are that is exactly the same reason why the govt in India in general is big and gets involved in making everything from bread to steel, becuase earlier it was assumed that the govt would do everything.. and anything defense, the OFB and DRDO would do , even if it was something as simple as a pair of shoes or winter clothing and tents!.

    Anyway. Last on this topic from me.





  27. its a discussion forum remember, not a newspaper. How else do you expect for people to back their arguments with relevant references ? To cut and paste also needs research, time and effort. To make unqualified comments needs neither... Think about it

  28. No friend, i dont see the forums. i only see the main page for the latest in defence news.

    What i say is (in the main page) they just link the top stories to defence stories from other websites (i.e. hindu, toi etc.) Certain websites like frontier india publish their own stories which are pretty reliable!.

    Its good though, instead of scouting the web, you can find all the day's defence news there. only thing, 3/4 of the time i dont get access to br. thus i more often goto IDRW.

    i'm sick of forums (like br and idf).

  29. BR vs DDM ?

    Just type "Trishul test fire" and count the instances which say that Trishul is a "three-meter-long missile having a diameter of 200 cm". Compare that to the detail on BR missile page.

    Difference stands naked before your eyes


  30. adding to my prev post...

    So long before A3 test itself BR missile page predicted it would be a 1.8-2m dia missile.

    When DDM was feeding itself on the bits of "solid fuelled prithvi" test 3-4years ago -- some BRfites were speculating something more sinister.. It stands today infront of us as PAD.

    Ocassionally trolls stroll in BR. It is just that DDm is rife with them. A few exceptions - Vishnu, TS, Sandeep Unni.

  31. Hi, can you please post an article of the Kaveri engine and the HAL Light Combat Helicopter if its available to you? Thanks a ton.

  32. Im always wondering why is india silly to waste their money, sweat and blood to design a new airplane? it is because they have no reliable regional friends. pakistan is smart enough to forge strong bonds with china, thus entitling ourselfs to some of their latest innovations. it thus saves us much needed time and money. now that is called wiseness.

  33. @ Pro Pakistani

    the typical poakistani butt has a 'made in china' sticker. this is because porkistanis cannot make anything except 3 things: (1) Shit (2) urine (3) babies. infact even the babies they make are defective. thats why bulk of porkistani population are lame retards. UK minister says Poakistanis in UK are amongst the most silly people there because of rampant inbreeding. Yucks.

    Now however porkistan is experimenting with 'made in usa' stickers. because chinese stickers have excessive banned chemicals like lead and sulfur which cause the porkis to get nappy-rash on their butts. so the US sent their 1st consignment of stickers lately. The stickers also came with a mystery-gift. F16 fighters. 1st porki to officially stick the 'made in usa' sticker was musharraf. soon it may find its way on the ordinary porki butt.

    speculation: chinese exports for FY2009 to decrease a little as ally porkistan is decreasing imports of china made stickers.

    conclusion: a person who cannot do always condemns a person who does.


  34. ROTFL Max!! thats 100% true. paki retards..

  35. nice pics shukla! are they copyrighted?
    come on guys, stop condemning them (pakis), or else we'll be no different. we all know about the chinese stickers and their import of every thing from china (apart from the 3 things mentioned). so lets just cut those people off this conversation.
    if u like teasing them so much, join BR or idf.


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