First Indian-built Hawk takes to the skies - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Friday 20 June 2008

First Indian-built Hawk takes to the skies

(Picture: The first made-in-India Hawk being painted in Air Force colours at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, Bangalore)

Business Standard, 21st June, 2008
Dateline: HAL, Bangalore

The Indian Air Force (IAF) has been flying the British-made Hawk advanced jet trainer (AJT) since November last year, but now a significant new landmark has been kept secret: the first Indian-built Hawk has taken to the skies.

On the 7th of May --- just eight days after a British-made Hawk trainer crashed near Bidar, in Karnataka --- a group of more than 100 technicians of the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) gathered at the company runway in Bangalore. The Hawk had been restricted from flying after the accident on 29th April; but HAL was going ahead with an unannounced first flight of the first Hawk trainer manufactured in its plant in Bangalore.

As Chief Test Pilot, Squadron Leader Baldev Singh, lifted the Indian Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) off the ground, the tension evaporated into applause. A normal test flight takes about an hour, but Baldev took an extra fifteen minutes on his test routine, finally ending with an audacious barrel roll manoeuvre right above the cheering group of watchers.

No announcement has yet been made; HAL wants to shake off all the demons of the earlier crash before inviting a VIP for its formal unveiling. But at HAL, the celebrations have already unfolded.

“We were all pumped up”, Baldev admitted to Business Standard, “there’s always a certain thrill when you’re putting a new aircraft into the skies. And in the case of the Hawk, for which we have waited for twenty years to build ourselves, it was a special feeling.”

At the high tech painting plant in HAL, the first Indian Hawk is being painted in the matte grey finish that all Indian Air Force (IAF) planes wear. By this weekend, the aircraft will be ready, but HAL says it will conduct several more tests before handing it over to the IAF.

The first Hawk was to have been handed over in April, but was delayed by two months by the complexity of the assembly, which involves putting together 11,000 components which were shipped in individual plastic packets from the Hawk plant near Brough, in Yorkshire, UK.

HAL says it will make up for this delay while building the 42 Hawks that the initial contract stipulated. (24 were to be built in Brough and transhipped to India). That order, say senior HAL officers, will be executed on schedule by mid 2011.

“We’ve been working in three shifts, practically round the clock”, explains Ashok Nayak, the Director of HAL’s Bangalore Complex. “The initial learning curve is slow while building a new aircraft, but by the time the 5th or 6th aircraft is completed, everyone knows exactly what to do.”

Now HAL has received orders for another 57 Hawks: 40 for the IAF and 17 for the Indian Navy. At the targeted production rate of 20 Hawks a year, this order will keep the production line going till early 2014.


  1. i think you meant "HAL is going to build 20 Hawk/ year instead of /month"

  2. "At the high tech painting plant in HAL" ??....No offence but my neighborhood local garage paint shop and their equipments looks more high tech that this so called HAL hi-tech painting plan.
    Thanks for the picture.

  3. @above...i wonder where did u see the equipments in those two pics.We had armchair generals and now we have couch potato engineers too.Atleast see the picture properly before commenting. It is not being painted in a paint shop. Painting is already done. Desi stuff bashing(without proper reasoning) has become a fashion these days.

  4. anonymous, thanks for your alertness. I stand corrected: it is 20 Hawks a year.

  5. Hawk pictures shows that you visited the HAL. Sir my anxiety is on hike. Please give something on HAL LCH.....Please!!!.....Please!!!.....Please!!!

  6. Seems a lot of us eager to know about the LCH!

    How long is India going shed the hard earned money on foreign defense products?

  7. Ajai,
    both photos look blurred when enlarged. I guess the camera shook. enthusiasts like us have few good pics to see and journalists like you have a few opportunities to take these kind of pics. So I request you to take a pedestal or tripod or maybe a camera which takes care of shaking hands (some digital ones have that feature). Photos are something we just cant have enough of.
    We are interested in seeing better pics as well as educating write-ups.
    About the light tank design, I have been following your writing since the days you posted on BR. One thing that I had found that the major grudge you had against the arjun was it was not designed according to Indian requirements (this differs from the GSQRs).
    Something tells me that this light tank is the design you think will best serve the Indian strategic needs. Am I correct?

  8. My apologies for the blurred photographs. It was caused by the camera's inability to focus in the painting shed. I think that was because of (a) low light and (b) the uniform grey surface which provided no contrast which is essential for focusing.

    It's a one-off thing. Most of my other photos are pretty clear, so please forgive this lapse.

    I am not saying that a light tank is THE tank that India needs. I am saying that it is ONE OF THE tanks that we should get, keeping in mind the terrain, likely enemy threat, operating characteristics, crew capabilities etc that operate in our defence environment.

    A light tank for the east, a modified version of that for amphibious operations, another modification with a cleft turret for built up areas.

    In addition, medium and heavy tanks with carefully chosen capabilities that would be useful in our environment. Some day when I have the time, I'll write an article on what exactly those capabilities should be!

    But in most AFV designs --- whether the T-90, the Abrams, the Challenger, or the Merkava --- you see a clear national armour philosophy. You don't see that in the Arjun. You don't see that in the Russian MBTs we buy either.

    When it comes to armour philosophy, we're still babes in the wood.

  9. About the snaps, if its a technical issue then its fine Ajai.
    So the basic issue which you want to point out is that we have not evolved a armour design philosophy?
    Can you explain the cleft turret design a bit? I am an ignoramus in armour design.
    I do think that the Arjun, while not a tank built to serve the strategic Indian needs best, can evolve to become one because the changes that need be made can be made as the design has been inhouse and so also the improvements. Arjun and a National armour philosophy can co-evolve and mature. an example would be the development of merkava and evolution of Israeli armour philosophy (I think it has co-evolved, not necessary to be the case in reality).


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