IAF training crisis: scrabbling for solutions - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Sunday 4 April 2010

IAF training crisis: scrabbling for solutions

The German Grob 120 trainer, in use with several air forces worldwide, including the RAF

The Embraer Tucano, a more powerful aircraft than the Grob 120. A version of this, called the Short Tucano, is in service with the RAF as a Stage-2 trainer

Two Pilatus PC-21 trainers flying in formation over the Swiss alps

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 5th Apr 10

The Indian Air Force’s crisis in training its pilots saw a farcical twist recently when an Egyptian diplomat posted in India helpfully offered Cairo’s assistance. The Egyptian Air Force, he suggested to a senior IAF officer, could send a training team to Hyderabad, along with several of its trainer aircraft, the K-8 Karakorum. Was the Egyptian aware that the Karakorum trainer has been jointly developed by Pakistan and China? Nobody is certain but, since the offer was not followed up in writing, the IAF was spared the embarrassment of having to reply.

Even as the IAF spends billions of dollars in a global shopping spree for fighters, helicopters and transport aircraft, the training of pilots to fly them has been practically stalled since last July. That was when the IAF’s notoriously unreliable basic trainer, the HPT-32 Deepak, was grounded after a horrific crash that killed two experienced pilots. In 17 Deepak crashes so far, 19 pilots have died.

The Deepak, as the IAF has long known, has two major design flaws. When it flies upside-down the flow of fuel gets blocked, shutting down the engine; and, since the Deepak cannot glide without engine power for even a short distance, a serious crash in inevitable.

The IAF’s concern is evident from the radical methods it is exploring. It now proposes to fit each Deepak with an enormous parachute that opens when the engine shuts off, bringing down the aircraft slowly with the crew still in their seats. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), which manufactures the Deepak, is being asked to fit a number of trainers with this Ballistic Recovery System (BRS). It remains unclear whether the Deepak has the structural strength to support a BRS.

Meanwhile, improvisation governs training. After evaluating and ruling out several options --- including training IAF flight cadets in civilian flying clubs; or handing over training to foreign contractors on a “Power by the Hour” payment basis --- the IAF is now putting absolute rookies into the relatively complex, jet-engined Kiran Mark-1 aircraft for their very first taste of flying. The Kiran, too, has a dubious safety record with 13 serious crashes over this last decade.

Before the Deepak was grounded, it took 80 hours of basic training on that aircraft before selected cadets --- only those found fit to become fighter pilots --- graduated to the Kiran Mark 1. The third stage of training was on the Kiran Mark-2; which the Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) is gradually replacing. After those three stages of training, IAF pilots graduated to the frontline fighters that they would fly into battle.

“Conducting basic training on a jet aircraft is risky”, admitted a senior IAF decision-maker to Business Standard. “But what choice do we have? The air force must have pilots to fly its planes.”

In fact, the IAF has several good choices, but all of them are some time away. To replace the “Stage-1” Deepak trainer, the MoD has approved the fast-track purchase of 75 aircraft from the global market. Requests for Proposals (RfPs) have gone out to ten aircraft manufacturers. The hot contenders include the Pilatus PC-21 (Switzerland); Embraer Tucano (Brazil); and the Grob (Germany). Bids are due before 14th April, but the aircraft will be delivered only by 2013-14.

For “Stage-2” training, i.e. to replace the Kiran Mark-1, HAL is developing an Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT), the Sitara. The IAF is pleased with the prototype, and has ordered a limited series production of 12 aircraft. Eventually, the air force plans to buy 73 Sitaras, but it will take at least 3-4 years before it is available in the numbers needed for organised training.

Finally, for the “Stage-3” training, the Hawk should have been available in large enough numbers by now. But production delays at HAL, accompanied by a blame-game between HAL and the Hawk’s vendor, BAE Systems, has meant that just 29 Hawks have entered service against the scheduled induction of 44 Hawks by now.

A much needed strategy for training IAF pilots has now become clear. Before the trainers to implement this plan are obtained, several years of makeshift training lie ahead for the air force.


  1. Propeller driven planes are first world war technology! Good luck with all else that HAL is building. They should just stick to assembling SKD kits from Russia.

  2. My blood boils after reading Air Force fiasocs. We have got one of the worst managed air force in the world.
    They are taking 10 years to buy the aircraft. Whole dram of field trials for the mrca is joke, as if people don't know what these well known aircrafts offer to start with.

    Now they can not even train rookie pilots.

    Why not give them basic training in civlian clubs or rent some planes before rookies enter a jet plane. My god how shameless these people are? No anticipation, no foresight or strategic vision.

  3. Words just fail me.
    How and why do we keep on displaying the supreme ability to bring ourselves to such a pass time and time again.
    Is it something in our old socialist mindset or are we too snooty to admit where we are failing and accept our mistakes.

  4. 1. BRS is not a radical idea at all. Almost all ultralights (microlights) come with BRS since they are usualy homebuilt and thereby of uncalibrated quality. What is SHOCKING is a plane made by a entity as large as HAL having such reliability issues. I think SHAMEFUL would be a better word.

    2. I am surprised to read about the fuel flow problem. Without having any knowledge of the system constraints of the HPT32, i am amazed to know that a problem that has been solved by multiple manufacturers in a multiple ways is yet to be solved by HAL. Either the designers are complete retards (unlikely) or there is something more to the issue. Kit planes(homebuilt) are sold that cumulatively have flown hundreds of hours without any such problems.

    3. A Bangalore based company X-Air builds microlights for use by NCC and other small clubs across the world. If there is a large enough market, i am sure other engineering majors will be willing to jump in to design a prop plane for stage 1 training.

  5. Ajai, sorry for bringing up another topic, what happened to the LCA engine selection ? you said the decision would be taken by march 2010 ?

  6. Ajai sir you said

    'The Deepak, as the IAF has long known, has two major design flaws. When it flies upside-down the flow of fuel gets blocked, shutting down the engine; and, since the Deepak cannot glide without engine power for even a short distance, a serious crash in inevitable.'

    If this is the case then why Deepak was used for training in first place. Also I am hearing that IAF is going ahead with RFI for Ballistic Recovery System for Deepaks. Any news on that.

    As for contenders I heard somewhere it was the Super Tucano.

    By the way; any news on the HAL HTT-40 that was being developed to replace the Deepak.

    HJT-36 Sitara meant to replace HJT-16 Kiran as Stage-2 trainer is on track. But what about the follow on order for adding more Stage-3 trainer planes.

  7. Ajai ji,

    What is the status of the HAL HTT-40 design that was scheduled to replace the HPT-32?


  8. Ajai, we havent really heard much about the IJT in the last few months except that the AL55I engines have been integrated. There has been no news of the 12 LSP models that were supposed to fly by this year. Can you please confirm the status.

    However it is mentioned in the recent HAL accounts report that the IAF has placed a INR 6000 (approx) crore order for IJT's without secifying the number of aircraft. Is this the 73 aircraft order that was initially talked about?

    On a slightly tangential note, has there been any weapons testing by the 2 prototype aircraft?


  9. Hi Ajai,

    Any comments/insights on the so-called note circulated in the PMO about allowing 100% FDI? Is it coming through?


  10. Wont be a bad idea if we get to take a look at karakorums. Its good to know what the enemy uses ;)

  11. Hope they go with the Tucano. It is a very capable aircraft. It will be a big blessing in counter-insurgency operations in the North-East and Eastern states too.

  12. A licensed produced weaponised super-tucano armed equipped with a HELINA and a gun to do a job similar to LCH but at higher speed and at heights closer to the ground. If HTT40 could be made be improvised to do the same in a short time lag then all the better.

  13. Col. Shukla, I'd like to know if you've guaged the opinion of IAF on using the NAL's Hansa trainer jet.

    NAL Hansa is used widely in flying clubs in India for ab-initio training to rookie pilots. Has the IAF considered purchasing that ?

  14. There is no need to embarrass for the Egyptian offer. I would say, we can let HAL do dealings with Chinese Aviation companies to import in Aircraft and paint Indian colours with HAL logo prominently positioned. I support HAL is good in painting its logo atleast.

  15. Ajai, I have difficult understanding why the aircraft cannot glide. No aircraft with wings can fall down to the earth like a brick.
    It is common practice for student pilots to practice engine out landings where the engine is idled and is not developing any thrust. Usually a suitable field or road is chosen and the aircraft glides toward it. Atleast thats the case with Cessna 172, Piper Cherokee's etc where the glide ratio is about 10:1.
    BRS systems are common in most light airplanes and are offered as installed options.

  16. Anonymous @ 0943.

    I suggest you gen up a little before letting your blood boil so quickly. I'm not sure which aircraft you are referring to that the IAF wants to buy in 10 years, I assume its the MMRCA. If you know anything about the DPP and control that the babus in MoD and MoF have over the procurement policy, I'm sure you wouldnt be so uncharitable about the IAF.
    Regarding field trials, I'm sure you buy your car, television and cellphone after a quick glance through of the brochure, right?

    Give the guys a break, they're doing their best in difficult circumstances. And, for all the apologists for DRDO / HAL, the correspondence on the IAF being forced to purchase / operate the Deepak in the name of supporting indigenous industry in spite of violent objections, should ring a warning bell. The babus cannot enforce quality and time targets on our PSUs, but can force the men in uniform to suffer inadequate and unsafe kit. Part of the "absolute control of the military is essential to prevent a military coup" lobby. Actually you're right, it does make one's blood boil.

  17. Take it as an opportunity to build the indian private sector aviation. Let the private sector form JVs with various candidates and make offers. Am sure the numbers are big enough to make new capacity installation and joint ventures viable. HAL is busy now with other crucial projects to get into HTT-40 development. Let us build private sector aerospace companies. Over the time they will come up with more indegenous products for commercial and military aviation.

  18. Wow! The Embraer looks so good... like a WW2 Spitfire. What a beaut!


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