After the Hawk, a supersonic trainer LCA - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Sunday 15 February 2009

After the Hawk, a supersonic trainer LCA

(Photos: courtesy Ajai Shukla)

Above: The Tejas trainer final assembly

Left: Author with two designers of the LCA trainer and the vice head of the Aircraft R&D Centre

Right: another view of the Tejas trainer final assembly

Below: a view of the cockpit. Many of the instruments have not yet been fitted

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 16th Feb 09
HAL, Bengaluru

It took immense public pressure and the deaths of tens of Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots for the government to okay the purchase of 66 Hawk Advanced Jet Trainers (AJTs) for training rookie pilots on fast jets before sending them off to the MiG Operational Flying Training School (MOFTU) in Tezpur. There they are put into the cockpit of one of the world’s fastest and most unforgiving fighters: the MiG-21. It is no coincidence that accidents are dramatically down since training began on the Hawk.

Now the IAF is purchasing another trainer that could equip its pilots even better for flying the high performance fighters --- the upgraded Jaguars, MiG-21s, 27s and 29s, the Mirage 2000s, the brutally powerful Su-30MKI and the MMRCA, when that is inducted --- which will comprise the new IAF.

Top MoD sources have told Business Standard that the IAF will soon order from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) twelve of the newly developed two-seater trainer version of the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA). The DRDO chief, Dr M Natarajan confirms that the Tejas trainer is set to make its first flight within two months.

This will give IAF pilots an additional stage of training. Currently, Stage I is carried out on a basic trainer, the HPT-32; Stage II on slightly faster and more complex aircraft like the Kiran; and Stage III on the jet-engined, but sub-sonic Hawk AJT. The induction of an LCA trainer will allow IAF pilots to fly a supersonic, light fighter before graduating to the combat squadrons.

Most advanced western air forces do not conduct four stages of training; instead, they rely extensively on aircraft simulators. But the IAF, like some other air forces, has tended to prefer live flying. To benefit from such a demand, South Korea has built and is marketing a supersonic trainer called the T-50 Golden Eagle. DRDO chief, Dr M Natarjan, declared at Aero India 09 that the Tejas trainer would compete effectively with the Golden Eagle.

Ashok Nayak, Managing Director of HAL’s Bangalore Complex, and the company’s next chief, explains that the Tejas assembly line will be busy until 2014, producing the IAF’s first order of 20 Tejas aircraft, which will include 16 single-seater fighters and 4 twin-seater trainers. Then, while the Tejas is reengineered and flight-tested with a new, more powerful engine, the assembly line will produce 12 more trainers.

For HAL, the new order is a relief, as it will keep the Tejas assembly line rolling. Mr Nayak points out, “It is not in the interests of the Air Force, or of HAL, to have a break in production.”

Business Standard travelled to HAL for an exclusive look at the new Tejas trainer. From the outside, there is little to distinguish it from the single-seater fighter that performed aerobatics at the just-concluded Aero India 09 show. A closer look, however, reveals an expanded cockpit, in which two pilots --- an instructor and a trainee --- sit one behind the other, both equipped with all the controls needed to fly the aircraft.

The design team for the twin-seater Tejas trainer was led by two women engineers of HAL’s Aircraft Research and Development Centre, Ms Poongothai, and Ms Mamatha K. They pointed out that the additional pilot’s seat and controls have all been squeezed into the existing airframe, obviating the need for time-consuming redesign of the single-seater Tejas’ airframe.


  1. Only 4 aircrafts for an year !!!

  2. Ajai then where does the HJT36 Sitara come in? Is it to replace the Kiran? Do you have any idea on the Sitara's progress?



  3. Hawk is a brilliant aircraft for the Indian Air Force. I am a pilot from Pakistan Air Force, and I have flown 1,400 hours on the Hawk 102 for the UAE Air Force, and I think it will really boost the training for the Indian Air Force, which it currently lacks.

  4. ajai, crash rate is down from early 2000's itself, much earlier than the hawks appeared, following the recommendations of the much publicised Abdul Kalam Commitee on air safety. IAF has to take much credit on that.

    sarva, yes, sitara is for stage 2.

    FWIW, IAF is not too happy with the hawk. that is one reason why it is also asking for an AJT from HAL.

  5. and has decided to cancel the further 57 hawk order.

  6. I'm so glad that you mentioned Ms Poongothai and Ms Mamatha. They really are the unsung heroes of these efforts. Is there some systematic way that HAL rewards the contribution of its engineers?

  7. Excellent article, Col. Shukla. Thanks.

  8. Ajai,

    Can you possibly please do a series of articles on AI-09, especially for those not in Bangalore.

    Thanks in advance.


  9. Thanks for your good articles. I think the trainer is good news for Indian's air force. I wish to have more articles from you.


  10. It is probably a huge exaggeration to say that "accidents have come down since training began on Hawk"

    The training on Hawk began only mid-2008 and not even two batches would have graduated and went back to their sqadrons.. There is a huge issue of serviceability of the dozen or so Hawks inducted..

    The "accidents have come down" over the past 3-4years since IAF adopted better safety standards and resolved a few technical issues with Mig21 fuel system.

    A good article.. but not necessary to proffer undue credit to Hawk for the service which "it had not done yet".. And already IAF is facing usual problems of quality of spares, aftersales service etc which has significantly dented its training plan on the Hawks..

    Ajai - if you remember HAL had a CAT design.. Could you possibly find out if they have completely junked it or is there a chance now IAF will plump for it?

  11. Ajai, could you perhaps throw some light on the logic behind prefering 'all live flying' method of pilot training over part simulator - part live flying?

    AFAIK, the simulators allow the pilots to try out a lot of things that one might consider risky on an actual plane, thus bringing down the casualty rate in soem sense.

    Besides it will also help lenghten the aircraft's life by using the simulators to understand the most basic things which do not necessarily equire actual flying. I suppose things like getting used to the controls or the UI can be done in a simulator.

    It would be very wrong to say I'm against actual flight training. Its just that the most basic things which the westerners teach their pilots in a simulator can be done here as well.


  12. AFAIK, the navy has already ordered simulators for the MiG-29 K aircrafts, somethign which the IAF hasn't done yet, even after inducting 4 squadrons of the mighty Sukhois!

  13. Anonymous, you're wrong when you say that training on the Hawks began only in mid-2008. It began three years before that... soon after the deal was signed and batches of Indian pilots began training in RAF Valley in Wales, UK.

    2008 was when they began training in India.

    This is not to say that the entire credit for a better safety record goes to the Hawk. The IAF's growing emphasis on flight safety also had much to do with it. But don't, for a moment, overlook the role played by the Hawk. Not just in terms of actual flying, but also the safer training practices that our pilots learned in RAF Valley and brought back with them.


  14. Way to go Ladies! Keep up the good work. This is woman power- real, tangible contribution to the Country.
    Unlike those donating pink chaddies.
    What abunch of bozos

  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

  16. Hi Ajai,

    Nice article!

    I would like to get some more info on the following articles:

    1. Status of HJT-36 Sitara esp after the crash.
    2. Status of NAL Saras. Timeline when it will be inducted in IAF?
    3. Status of MCA?
    4. Status of LOH.
    5. Status of IMRH.
    6. Specs of LCA MkII.
    7. Status of ATV.
    8. Status of IAC.
    9. Status of LCH.
    10. Status of MMRCA Deal.
    11. Status of Scorpene Project.
    12. Status of 2nd batch of 6 Submarines.

    I know I have asked too many questions. A lot of info is available elsewhere but I would like to hear from someone who has a better insight.

  17. Hello Ajai, you know very well about the Arjun Project, now can you tell us what made the Army to take a U turn on the Arjun. Were there any trials this year.

  18. Ajai, regarding the safety of Hawk, one has crashed and two of our pilots bailed out safely.

  19. Whether LCA TEJAS is really a good aircraft which meets the requirements of indian navy and air force..?

    I have this doubt because the development of this aircraft started in mid 80's and still its not inducted into our forces.

    Does this aircraft meet the standards of american, russian and european aircrafts ...?


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