HAL’s trainer pitted as Rs 4,500 crore cheaper than Swiss Pilatus trainer - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Sunday 14 April 2013

HAL’s trainer pitted as Rs 4,500 crore cheaper than Swiss Pilatus trainer

HTT-40 trainer at the HAL stand in Aero India 2013

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 15th Apr 13

A looming test case will soon make clear how serious the defence ministry (MoD) is about its recently expressed intentions to end corruption in arms procurement by indigenizing defence production. Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), the Bangalore-based public sector aircraft builder has challenged the IAF’s plan to purchase more Pilatus trainer aircraft by building a basic trainer aircraft, using its own funding.

Of the IAF’s total requirement of 183 basic trainer aircraft, 75 PC-7 Mark II trainers have already been bought for Rs 2,900 crore from Swiss company, Pilatus. The first few Pilatus trainers have already been delivered and the IAF will begin training rookie pilots on the PC-7 Mark II this July. With the IAF’s immediate requirement met, HAL demands that the IAF buy 108 HTT-40 trainers to complete its fleet.

This has led to a dramatic three-way face-off between the MoD, HAL and the IAF. The IAF insists that it needs more Pilatus trainers immediately and is pressing the MoD to exercise the options clause in the Pilatus contract for 37 more PC-7 Mark II trainers. HAL points out that Pilatus will complete delivery of the initial order for 75 trainers only in 2015. If the HTT-40 does not fly by then the options clause can be exercised then, bringing HAL’s order down to 71 aircraft.

The MoD, which is the final arbiter, is caught in a cleft stick. Last year, as reported by Business Standard (Dec 19, 2012, “MoD rejects HAL’s proposal to build basic trainer”) the MoD chose the readily available Pilatus, saying that the HTT-40 was more expensive. But now, HAL has submitted a cheaper price bid. And with the MoD battered by allegations of corruption in overseas arms purchases, defence minister AK Antony is himself inclined to buy Indian.

Meanwhile a pro-active HAL has committed Rs 40 crore of company money to develop the HTT-40, and is allocating another Rs 160 crore that will also pay for three flying prototypes. At the Aero India 2013 show in Bengaluru in February, HAL exhibited a full-scale model of the HTT-40 and an impressive team of young aeronautical designers, who were calmly confident that the HTT-40, rather than the Pilatus PC-7 Mark II was the future of basic flying training in India’s military.

Prashantsingh Bhadoria, one of the HTT-40’s designers, told Business Standard that the HTT-40 would eventually cost Rs 35 crore per aircraft, including the cost of developing a weaponised variant. The 75 Pilatus that the IAF has already signed up for cost Rs 38.5 crore per aircraft. The HAL team at Aero India 2013 said that the HTT-40’s only two imported systems would be the engine and the ejection seat, which together cost Rs 6 crore.

“It is easy to see what benefits India’s aerospace industry. The Rs 38.5 crore that we pay for each Pilatus PC-7 Mark II goes entirely to Swiss manufacturers. Of the Rs 34.5 crore that each HTT-40 will cost, India’s aerospace industry will get Rs 29 crore; only Rs 6 crore will go abroad,” says Bhadoria.

A MoD rethink is underway. The ministry’s high-level Defence Procurement Group (DPG) has asked HAL to prepare a life cycle costing of the HTT-40, which is an estimation of what the trainer will cost to buy, operate, maintain, upgrade and overhaul during its estimated service lifespan of 30-40 years. Given that the HTT-40 will be built, maintained, overhauled and upgraded in HAL, the Pilatus will inevitably appear more expensive in a life cycle comparison.

Top HAL sources tell Business Standard that the life cycle estimates make a fleet of 108 HTT-40’s trainers cheaper than a PC-7 Mark II fleet by Rs 4,500 crore.

MoD officials say that the life cycle comparisons will be evaluated by the DPG and then taken before the ministry’s apex Defence Acquisition Council (DAC). If the DAC approves the project, HAL will get funding and IAF orders for up to 108 trainer aircraft.

HAL has also proposed supplying the HTT-40 to the Indian Navy, which will eventually have more than 500 aircraft, including aircraft carrier based fighters. HAL is confident that the navy will eventually set up its own training establishment, instead of training naval pilots in IAF training facilities. This would provide an additional market for the HTT-40.

HAL’s projections suggest that the HTT-40 will fly at 600 km per hour, reach an altitude of 10,000 metres, fly 3,000 km non-stop, and carry a 500-pound bomb or a mix of weaponry like guns, rockets and bombs. This would allow the HTT-40 to operate as a light strike aircraft, like the Hawker Beechcraft AT-6, which the US is considering for supply to the Afghan National Air Force.

The HTT-40 and the Pilatus PC-7 Mark II are “Stage-1” trainers for rookie pilots, which will replace the obsolescent HPT-36. After basic training, fighter pilots will move on to “Stage-2” training on the Intermediate Jet Trainer, which HAL is developing. After that, pilots will graduate to “Stage-3” training on the Hawk advanced jet trainer. Only after that will they fly IAF frontline combat aircraft.


  1. Well i guess its a good news!
    but will HAL manufacture the aircrafts on time. and supply them as per schedule? thats the biggest question

  2. HAL should... make provisions also for... parachute recovery... in HTT 40... in their budget... like in deepak... HAHAHA...

  3. What about cost escalations, after the commencement of project? Early estimation will be good in paper (and in paper only).


  4. HAL's proposal to internally fund and build four prototypes is most welcome and they should launch it immediately, with at least two aircraft, if not four. This will help establish their non-existent credibility, if the time frame and performance that they promise, is demonstrated. The Intermediate Jet Trainer, which is supposed to to used in the Stage II training, is already far behind schedule. If the HTT-40 meets the requirements, then it will be a quantum leap in HAL's performance and much value will accrue to the indigenous effort...but as it stands, there is a huge chasm between what HAL 'says' (Faithfully reported by BT), and what it actually has 'achieved'!

  5. Though normally any claim of HAL must be taken by bucketloads of salt, it does seem that indigenous production of any weapons system will benefit this country in the long run. Now that HAL has firmed its design, other Indian companies must also be included in the aircraft bidding process so that ultimately the Indian weapons industry can grow as a whole and not only HAL.

    However, can someone please clarify how effective will be propeller driven 'weaponised' trainer aircraft be?

  6. @Ajai sir

    I dont understand the logic of putting HTT40 for stage 1 training.

    Which AF in the world uses 2 different planes for stage 1 training, i think none.

    Just because they are priced less doesnt mean IAF must buy the HTT40. If at all HAL should have developed this in 1990s itself then the need for Pilatus wouldnt have arised.

    Since they didnt do it and IAF needed planes to train its pilots which Pilatus is doing well, better scrap HTT40 or even the IJT 36 as well and instead HAL must put all that money in upgrading production standards of its units, so that advanced jets like the Su30MKI or Rafale are made as per international quality standards


    Joydeep Ghosh

  7. But both, split the order. Lifecycle costs will be known in time. Impossible to estimate accurately now.

  8. I am with the program when it comes to buying local goods. But the way I understand the situation is that HAL reduced its price after Pilatus turned out to be a lower cost option compated to their original quoted price. If this is correct, then this is not how deals get done. HAL should have put their best price up front.

  9. Comparing the cost of HTT-40 with the Pilatus trainer is like comparing a HMT watch with a Swiss rolex. An absurd comedy.

    HAL can't deliver a safe and reliable aircraft that satisfies the IAF. Their "lower" price is meaningless when the aircraft is useless and potentially junk.

    The Pilatus aircraft are top of the line, efficient, safe and reliable aircraft that offer IAF pilots with a modern aircraft to fly in. HAL on the other hand has a pretty diagram and a spotty record for aircraft quality and aeronautical competence (HTT-34 anybody?). Besides, even HAL will import the engines, electronics, control system and various other parts in its "indigenous" aircraft.

    The cost of lives is WORTH ATLEAST the price difference between HAL's contraption and Pilatus. The IAF must demand that HAL aircraft should ocme with a warranty and any fatalities caused due to mechanical or design defects result in criminal punishment of the engineers and management involved.

  10. I hope HAL can succeed in its mission. A question to knowledgeable people. Can't the Kaveri engine as it is today be used in the Indian IJT or even in the advanced jet trainer ( presumably) in place of the BAE Hawks ? Thanks!

  11. Well, if there's a time bound clause, there's no reason why the HAL shouldn't be given a opportunity. And a small typo, in the last para,its HPT-32

  12. The middle men will attack and destroy the initiative of HAL

  13. Instead of harping on to the unreliable HTTP-40 Trainer, if HAL seriously and aggressively promotes the Tejas-Mk1 Tandem seat Trainer as the LIFT for the IAF , then the things may be really favorable, beneficial and fruitful to all concerned.

  14. If MoD waits unti 2015 when Pilatus deliveries run out before making a decision on the next tranche, then I assume there will be a disruption to deliveries since Pilatus needs time to source and assemble the planes. Likewise, if the HTT-40 finally is deemed acceptable in 2015, then there would be a delay from that decision point to putting it into production and delivering them. The prudent approach would be a mini-order of Pilatus before 2014, to allow for a year or so of deliveries past 2015, and if HAL's product is ready enough and economically advantageous enough to justify the decision at that point, then future production can be sent to HAL.

    Whether or not IAF orders 15 or 20 more Pilatus is pretty much superfluous, if HAL can establish the case then they will get their product ordered by IAF, which will enable future IN orders as well. If it's economically superior to Pilatus, then HAL should be able to export it as well. There's no reason to disrupt IAF training needs in the meantime, and doing so just isn't really a signifigant benefit to HAL (or it's owner).

  15. An armed version of this could be very capable. Over the next 10-20 years, states in SE Asia, Central Asia, and Africa will be busy fighting jihadist insurgencies. An armed HTT-40 could be widely exported.

    This is a fine article on what the U.S. is doing to arm its trainer aircraft: http://www.rdmag.com/news/2012/06/gtri-helps-transform-t-6-trainer-light-attack-aircraft

  16. I'd be very surprised if HAL does indeed manage to deliver the aircraft at the stated price. The risk is that there will be enough cost and time overruns that IAF will be in the same position that it finds itself in w.r.t. the Tejas.

    HAL is right in that the two major systems that will be procured from abroad cost a small fraction of the overall price. What doesn't make sense is why the airframe and avionics should cost Rs.32 crores. How hard is it for HAL to strip apart and reverse engineer a Pilatus? The airframe is not some exotic design. It is the usual riveted aluminum construction. If ISRO can build rockets for peanuts, surely HAL can be challenged to do the same? Unless HAL knows something we don't about where the money is going, something doesn't add up.

    We in India do things backwards - design fighter jets before we design trainers, build research institutes before we build primary schools, build an aviation infrastructure for airlines before we build general aviation. No wonder we can't get most things right.

  17. Let HAL deliver IJT first. Enough said!

    - Manne

  18. Great News and teh way to go!
    However the News is ( at present !) too good to be true.

    There are enough instances when we have foreclosed promising projects just when we were emerging from the woods.
    A likely scenario would be that just when the HTT 40 begins to show promise Pilatus would suddenly "agree" to reduce it's prices and the HTT 40 will be abandoned "due to commercial" considerations.

    HAL should plan NOW for selling to all the Third world air forces

  19. And how much did they say lca was gonna cost, way back in 1983 ??

    Right, right!! ... it was supposed to cost the same as the trophy which the jubiliant indian cricket team was bringing home.

  20. Chinese-Indian Ajay25 April 2013 at 03:26

    Hi Ajai,

    I have a couple of BIG questions that I would like HAL to answer:

    1. Why are HAL having to buy a FOREIGN engine for the rookie-trainer?

    For an altitude of 10,000 feet you could as well use a PISTON ENGINE than a TURBOPROP.

    Tata, Mahindra, TVS, Ashok Leyland have all got some experience of building PISTON ENGINES. We build them in India for trucks, cars, tractors and motorbikes. It is a matter of building one that can generate a shaft horsepower of 600shp.

    2. If HTT 40 does need a turbo-prop, they could do so easily by developing a downrated GTRE developed Kaveri. Why are they not considering this option?

    Obviously they, HAL, are able to build the transmission, avionics, oxygen support system etc.

    We have already got in-country technology. And if they are intending to produce only around 2000 HTT 40, using all systems and sub-systems developed within the country, the price of each could be much cheaper, somewhere around 25 crores.

    The HTT 40 can also be sold to aircraft enthusiasts and clubs.

  21. Chinese-Indian Ajay25 April 2013 at 05:15

    Pilatus PC12 drinks fuel like a sponge.

    All in all India has all the capability and industry, talent and money to build a rookie-training plane.

    Indians can match or exceed Pilatus or Embraer or any other similar competition, if they could only believe in themselves.

  22. I flew the prototype hpt 32 way back in eighties. Training rookie pilots on nose wheel aircraft is equivalent to traning them in the art of kite flying. Hal should be tasked to manufacture kites instead of aircraft.Ofcourse we can produce a export centric trainer aircraft provided the govt intentions are clear and private players are involved at the apex level.

  23. Joydeep:
    Ajai has clearly explained the various stages of training requirement for getting used to higher supersonic fighters. This will enable IAF to not lose their precious pilots on MiG-21 platform.
    Shrikant Dudhe

  24. Dear Rahj,
    Have you been working with Pilatus company and.... It seems as if you have flown and maintained both the aircrafts in your own hangar(HTT40 is yet to built and still you say it to be bad ..Hahaha)

    Shrikant Dudhe

  25. Mr RA,
    LCA trainer is not a stage-1 trainer for rookie pilots. Pl understand what Mr Ajai has said.


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