Air Force diluted at least twelve benchmarks for trainer aircraft, allowing Pilatus into the contract - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 29 July 2013

Air Force diluted at least twelve benchmarks for trainer aircraft, allowing Pilatus into the contract

Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne, first as Deputy Chief and now as IAF Chief, has been surprisingly nice to Pilatus

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 30th July 13

Former Indian Air Force (IAF) head, Air Chief Marshal SC Tyagi, faces a CBI charge sheet for allegedly diluting a single specification of the VVIP helicopter that India was buying. In the so-called Air Staff Qualitative Requirements (ASQR), the helicopter’s service ceiling was lowered from 6,000 to 4,500 metres. This made the AW-101 helicopter eligible and its Anglo-Italian manufacturer, AgustaWestland, bagged the Euro 556 million (Rs 4,377 crore) IAF contract for 12 helicopters.

That violation, now under investigation, is dwarfed in the IAF’s purchase of the Pilatus PC-7 Mark II basic trainer aircraft (BTA), where at least 12 benchmarks were changed between March and October 2009, including some relating to pilot safety. But they allowed the PC-7 Mark II, fielded by Swiss company Pilatus, to qualify and win an IAF order worth US $640 million (Rs 3,780 crore) for 75 BTA.

Business Standard is in possession of the documents relating to this case. Contacted for comments, the IAF has chosen not to respond.

The documents reveal that, up to Sep 29, 2009, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) was indigenously developing 181 BTA for the IAF, dubbed the Hindustan Turbo Trainer–40 (HTT–40). On Mar 5, 2009, the IAF laid down stringent performance benchmarks --- dubbed “Preliminary Air Staff Qualitative Requirements”, or PSQR.

But these began getting diluted in Sept 2009, when the MoD permitted the IAF to import 75 BTA through a global tender. Within days, the IAF issued relaxed criteria, termed “Air Staff Qualitative Requirements”, or ASQR, in a document numbered ASQR 18/09. While the Pilatus PC-7 Mark II would not have met the earlier PSQR that were formulated for HAL, the new ASQR seems almost to be tailored for Pilatus.

Amongst the twelve dilutions that Business Standard has identified, the most worrisome is doing away with the requirement for a “zero-zero ejection seat.” This allows pilots to eject even from a stationary aircraft on the ground (zero altitude, zero speed). The Oct 2009 ASQR does not require a zero-zero ejection seat. Since the PC-7 Mk II has “zero-sixty” ejection seats, i.e. the aircraft must be moving at sixty knots (110 kmph), dropping the requirement for zero-zero ejection seats made it eligible for the IAF contract.

The PSQR of Mar 2009 required the BTA to have a pressurized cockpit, letting the trainee fly at altitudes above 15-20,000 feet. But the ASQR of Oct 2009 dispensed with this requirement. The PC-7 Mark II has an unpressurized cockpit.

Also diluted was the requirement for good external vision from the instructor’s rear cockpit, a crucial attribute in a BTA. The PSQR of Mar 2009 mandated a field of view of “minus 8 degree vision” for the rear cockpit. But the ASQR of Oct 2009 dispensed with that, specifying only that, “the rear cockpit should be sufficiently raised to allow safe flight instruction.” The PC-7 Mark II, which does not meet the 8-degree specification, became eligible.

“Glide ratio” is another important attribute for a light, single-engine aircraft. The glide ratio of 12:1, specified in the Mar 2008 PSQR, meant that the trainer could glide, in the event of an engine failure or shutdown, a distance of 12 kilometres for every one kilometre of altitude that it lost. That would enable a BTA that was flying at an altitude of 5 kilometres to glide for 60 kilometres, landing safely at any airport within that distance. But the Oct 2009 ASQR relaxed the glide-ratio requirement to 10:1. That is precisely the glide-ratio of the Pilatus PC-7 Mark II.

The ASQR of Oct 2009 also relaxed the requirement for “in-flight simulation”. This permits the instructor in the rear cockpit to electronically simulate instrument failures, training the rookie pilot to handle an emergency. The PSQR of Mar 2009 required “in-flight simulation” facilities; and the HTT-40 currently being developed by HAL also has these. But the PC-7 Mark II does not, and the relaxation of this condition made it eligible for the IAF tender.

Other relaxations that made the Pilatus trainer eligible include: increasing the take-off distance from 700 to 1000 metres; and reducing maximum speed from 475 kmph to 400 kmph.

On Monday, this newspaper had reported (“Indian Air Force at war with Hindustan Aeronautics; wants to import, not build, a trainer) about a personal letter earlier this month from Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne, the IAF chief, to Defence Minister AK Antony, asking for HAL’s trainer project to be scrapped and another 106 PC-7 Mark II trainers be imported from Pilatus, a purchase that will benefit the Swiss company by an estimated $800 million (Rs 4,750 crore).

Browne’s involvement with the basic trainer dates back several years. From Mar 2007 to May 2009, he was Deputy Chief of Air Staff (DCAS) at IAF headquarters, handling all IAF acquisitions. Four months after he handed over to Air Marshal NV Tyagi (not to be confused with the former IAF chief, SC Tyagi), the IAF issued the ASQR, with the relaxations that benefited Pilatus.

Contacted for comments, NV Tyagi told Business Standard that the PSQR of Mar 2009 set unrealistically high standards for HAL to meet, but those were lowered in the Oct 2009 ASQR because the IAF was going in for global procurement. Lower standards would bring in more vendors and generate competition.

Says Tyagi, "The earlier PSQRs matched the performance of the Embraer Super Tucano, which many IAF officers considered a good trainer. But the IAF didn't believe that HAL could build such a trainer quickly. After a series of HPT-32 crashes [then the IAF’s basic trainer] it was decided in September 2009 to buy 75 basic trainers from the global market. Fresh QRs were framed in order to bring as many vendors as possible into the tender."

It remains unclear why exacting standards set for a HAL-built trainer were lowered when it came to an international purchase.


  1. It's the difference between building a house and buying a house: When you build it, you can design it the way you want it exactly. When you buy it, you are limited to what is available in the marketplace.

    How many existing Stage I trainers would have qualified if those 12 reqs weren't eased? If the answer is none or one, then that seems to be a pretty good reason to ease them.

  2. Keep up the good work Colonel. Keep championing the cause. You are doing the nation a favour.

    Jai Hind!

    Indranil Roy

  3. This thing smells of the same strategy that was used when report of a coup in N Delhi came out a few years ago..

    Another feeble attempt by HAL/DRDO to justify their existence.. In fact it is taking a dangerous turn now , as any of the serving personnel who call a spade a spade and not allow deficient produces of HAL into services will be given a ' corrupt' taint"..a new blackmailing strategy...

    If HAL/DRDO are so confident about their products, why not sell them outside...that would be the best example set to the whole nation..that other buyers prefer their products over what the IAF thinks is right...but for that HAL will first have to produce a product...

    The nation knows why the IAF did not have a trainer for decades....the nation knows the quality of even ancient trainers produced by HAL.....the rafaelle deal that India needed so badly is in limbo and diplomatic 'niceties' only because now the world is calling a spade a spade....recently a container was found with 2 Mig 21s of probably syria going eastwards for servicing....the eastwards journey by passed India....probably since it is known that the Mig 21 badgering is done in India alone as they are HAL produced....and since HAL/DRDO denied the IAF a trainer for decades and lied to the nation of the product on "threshold" of development, the 21 were used as basic trainers....aided by HAL/DRDO propagation machinery that led to the making of 'Rang de basanti' type movies to create a notion in civilian populous to divert the nation's attention HAL's cheating and lying and un professionalism towards a plane and the IAF

    The IAF or in fact the tri services Chiefs should address the nation, now giving all the facts of HAL products vis a vis crashes..the letters from HAL/DRDO on their being on threshold of delivering vis a vis actual making a recognizable prototype(not with design flaws and Mark 1 theology) so that in the hulabaloo and guise of secrecy, HAL and DRDO do not blackmail the men in uniform to adopt nearly buried technology and dangerous products..

    As far as the Tyagi episode goes...and using it as an example..well young India is using the same example knowing fully well that it is impossible for a single point even being the Chief to swing the deal ( IF DONE SO) showcase that not 1 MoD ,IAS babu's name crept up...that itself shows a big flaw in the investigation and HAL playing sherlock thinks it by leaking mis information to the civilian populous can swing deals detrimental to safety, a right of user to safety and detrimental to national security into their favor for justification of their existence...

  4. I aggree that 3 critical shortfalls are very critical & major :
    1) Not being able to fly at 15000+ ft altitude because non pressurized
    2)No capability for simulating instrument failure
    3) No capability for good instructor view of outside
    But still the Pilatlus is a proven trainer globally. Its aerodynamic and handling for learners are excellent.
    Will HAL ensure that an equivalent aircraft HTT will be produced in time. Will HTT overcome these shortcomings.
    I think this is a very remote possibility, as everyone knows how the Intermediate Jet Trainer faired. The ITJ has simply failed and did not achieve any target.
    So for developing a new aircraft quickly is a big challenge, and no one can ensure that it will be without flaws and delays. Therefore a proven aircraft like Pilatlus or Tucano are good choice for beginners.
    We shall not forget that this pilatlus aircraft is only intended for basic training; and not for advanced / intermediate training. The entire training syllabus ideally covers training on different type of aircraft, which goes on increasing the capability as the learner goes on honing skill. For advanced learning, IAF training setup has AJT Hawk.
    If we had gone through the melee of seeking everything in a basic training, then the airforce would have been devoid of the basic trainer, in the present scenario when entire HT2 is grounded and is obsolete. Kirans are also outlived its life. I think the airforce has done a good thing in choosing a proven aircraft, which is also being used by many other airforces worldwide. Advanced warfare doctrines of different airforces may vary, but basic flying skills and learning technique remains same. Other airforces are not fools.

  5. Atleast something is better than nothing. If for every deal such clauses has to adhere, then it will get impossible to pass any deal. The bofors ghost must not be created for air force. Finally this is a basic trainer to gain pilot confidence & some leniency can be entertained. The benchmarks can be well integrated in HJT-36 second level trainer. As long as trainers & trainees r satisfied I see no harm in acquiring pilatus. The air forces of other countries r also training in these machines with same specification.

  6. Thank you Ajai Shukla for this eye opener. I guess same is the thing going on with LCA. Since LCA is a high stake project. It could not just be scrapped at this stage. But IAF will make sure to bring enough bad reputation for ADA, DRDO and HAL to scrap future projects. Pity is it is not just IAF but other services as well.

    I admire your effort for being a indigenization crusader.

    Thank You!

  7. Ajai Sir, do we have the specifications of other trainers that entered the competition, without which the right picture won't show up.

  8. If Tyagi is involved in this contract, then there is no doubt, corrupted for sure. Why don't they just investigate how many onsite visits these IAF chiefs are making, what is the purpose of it. How much assets their relations are holding, how they got that? I am sure of some political link here.

  9. Bingo. You have hit the nail on the head. Now just imagine MMRCA. I don't have to say any thing else. The Asiana crash clearly brings out why STANDARDS are important. Diluting it is criminal.

    1. Why Asiana crash and standards ? A pilot error it was. Not Boeing's fault

  10. Rahul(Kolkata)30 July 2013 at 05:23

    An interesting eye opener....

    Question for IAF: So, when it comes to pizzas, even a toned down tasteless pizza is healthy and nutritiousand when it comes to dal maakhani, we need a 5 star hotel chief chef to cook it?? And that too, when we know that no 5 star hotel is availaible in India and it cannot be built in a day. Becoz forget about tasty daal makhanni, even basic daal makhanni can't be prepared by Dominos....The imported pizzas seems to be more healthy becoz it comes with a few 'tips'.

    So now what about LCA Tejas and Rafale? I am always of the view that we need both but what if some IAF officials in collusion have played with ASQR to suit the Rafale? I don't want to be a devil's advocate here but IAF must introspect and realise that part of the blame in delays that happen with any deal is because of its own wrongdoings and affinity for import....It is not as simple as designing a house and building a house as 'Anonymous 30 July 2013 08:50' may have tried to justify it....You don't try to design a house when you know that you don't have the capacity to build a bungalow and the best way to learn how to do it is by building an apartment first....

    So next time, an esteemed officer of IAF opens his mouth to express concern about the fact that PLAAF is 3 times more in number(and maybe technologically, he should do a totality comparision, which must include mindset and outlook comparision.

    Question for HAL/DRDO: How many years will it take for you now to design a world class product acceptable to all? Surely, passing the buck must stop somewhere. IAF is made to fly Mig 21's with pilots loosing their lives, pilots filing PIL's in High Court, Bollywood making money but no relief is in sight....You always talk about TOT, sanctions after nuclear blasts to hide your incompetence but can you plz tell me, for how many more years, you need foreign help to build a product, and that includes a basic trainer also???? Who supplied Soviet/USA with TOT when they designed their first product? And what will you do with TOT? Suppose, you get TOT for Rafale which is a 4.5 gen fighter, so by the time last Rafale comes out of production line, world will be flying 6th gen fighters...So how do you propose to use 4.5 gen TOT to build a 6th gen fighter????

    HAL/DRDO, grow up, be less shrewd and accept your limitations. You think 'public ko kuch bhi bol sakte hain becoz public kuch nehi samjthi' but fact is, India has progressed much in the last 20 yrs and now the Indian public knows how to differentiate between talent and gimmick....

  11. So N V Tyagi lowers the bar 4 months after getting the charge of procurements and you find NAK Browne responsible, am i missing something.

  12. This part is awesome

    "Contacted for comments, NV Tyagi told Business Standard that the PSQR of Mar 2009 set unrealistically high standards for HAL to meet, but those were lowered in the Oct 2009 ASQR because the IAF was going in for global procurement"

    So IAF wants higher standards from HAL-a indigenous manufacturer with not even a fraction of aircraft development expertise compared to global aircraft majors like Embraer, Pilatus etc?

    Explains why IAF does not have a single indigenous aircraft and is fighting tooth and nail to induct the LCA, while bending over backwards to re-engine the under-powered Jaguar and put in basic DARIN avionics. Imported maal be fida!!!

  13. Its a clear case of kickbacks and bribes influencing IAF decisions since here not only the bribe is in dollars but IAF personnel prefer travelling to a foreign destination for a work cum holiday tour rather than have a tiresome journey to an Indian city....

    This argument is not baseless since earlier this rotten mentality of IAF was displayed in anti-maoist operations.. where they made the drones useless (by operating them from far city of Hyderabad rather than a nearby place) citing "living conditions" clearly preferring their comfort over national security.....

  14. The other trainers which were in the competition were the kt-1 from korea , hawker beech craft t-6 and a polish aircraft and the German grob. Except for the grob all the others would have met the original requirements from what information is available about those aircraft. Pc7 mk2 is a poor man's trainer. Pilatus should have floated the pc-9 to meet the original requirements. But now it seems like they had some deal with the force to relax the req and come with the pc7 mk2

  15. Let's face it - the IAF needed basic trainers like 10 years ago not 20 years in the future. The HTT-40 is but a fleeting mirage and a paper plane. HAL / ADA needs to deliver in the LCA & the Sitara first before they start another failed project in the HTT-40!

    Who are you helping out really ? The ACM had an immediate need to train rookie pilots unlike our arm chair expert ,Col. A. Shukla ! The KAI KT-1 was far more expensive a proposition and the PC-7 seemed to fit the bill.

    As far as watered down performance parameters from the design criteria set for the clean sheet design of the HTT-40, that makes sense too. As someone rightly pointed out, if you had a choice to build vs. buy wouldn't you want your clean sheet design to incorporate all the design elements on your wishlist ? Of course you would. But faced with a buy decision some of those wish list items had to be relaxed as the IAF was haemorrhaging from tha lack of a basic trainer and needed to buy one off the shelf.
    Col. Shukla is known to have lobbied very aggressively for the KAI KT-1 . Is this then just a case of sour grapes, Col. ?

  16. Nothing but a continuation of the earlier post by Colonel Ajai Shukla to malign the IAF. Colonel Ajai Shukla should have analysed and brought our very clearly as to how many aircraft could meet the PSQR and how many aircraft can meet the revised and 'diuluted' ASQR. Sadly, this has not been done for the purpose of the post seems to be only one - be a spokesman for the HAL in the guise of an journalist.

    Colonel Ajai shukla must also bring out the whole story as regards the failure of HAL to produce a single trustworthy aircraft - reliably, within time and without cost over runs - since the organisation's very inception.

  17. Please do not try to favor HAL. They are the worst PSU. There is no work culture, no ethics and no patriotism among the workers. Corruption is rampant. Just few months back you only wrote on the exorbitant price of a ladder which is used by Sukhoi 30 MKI pilots.
    There is no overnight solutions. Why HAL. is so eager to produce a basic trainer when the TEJAS is in the back burner ? And there is no dearth of orders. Either privatize HAL. or let the IAF. take over HAL.

  18. I doubt that earlier specs demanded would have been met by any current trainer aircraft in production. BTW Pilatus PC 21 is much higher performance model but max speed is 370 knots. I believe that having unrealistic specifications earlier and correcting them to a practical level does not automatically constitute fraud.

  19. Let us not do any favor to HAL.
    Let them deliver LCA , IJT. I do hope Light helicopter too flies on time. letnthem contribute to PAK FA fully.

    If Pilatus is the cheapest of all, good enough to train rookie. Great.

  20. A Superb post Col. Shukla. Its an eye-opener !

    The IAF's skeletons have finally begun tumbling out of the closet. This may also explain why it took 2 decades for the IAF to finalize the Hawk purchase, and endangering the lives of scores of pilots during the period.

    Not that HAL is not guilty. It derailed DRDO's Tejas program in favour of its pet IJT project.

    I think what has happened here is this :-

    1) IAF sets the bar too high for IJT, HTT-40 etc. so as to favour imports like Hawk, Pilatus, etc.

    2) HAL tries too hard on these projects to impress the IAF, but is unable to meet IAF's artificially high standards.

    3) In the process, DRDO's Tejas is given step-motherly treatment by HAL.

    And the Vicious cycle continues.....

    Now this is what's happening vis-à-vis Tejas:-

    1) IAF adopts a similar hands-off approach towards Tejas: sets the bar too high.

    2) With HAL busy in IJT, HTT-40 etc. HAL neglects the Tejas.

    3) Due to the above, Tejas gets delayed. In turn, ADA puts AMCA on the backburner.

    4) IAF finds a convenient excuse to import MRCA in lieu of Tejas (Mk.2) and PAK-FA in lieu of the AMCA.

    Now we know the secret behind IAF's hands-off approach towards indigenous projects like IJT, Tejas, HTT-40 OR the AMCA.

  21. Pretty amazing to see people making articles as HAL-favoring and IAF-opposing, when articles are merely talking facts.

    Some people think DPSUs are dart board and forces are holy cow.

  22. there is an article in this blog dated 1/sept/2009 where HAL states it had promised HTT in 6 years. Then there is an article that they had not selected an engine even in 2012. What is the truth, please go back to your old blogs and write balanced articles.

  23. To Anonymous at 31 July 8:04 who said " I believe that having unrealistic specifications earlier and correcting them to a practical level does not automatically constitute fraud."

    so why were unrealistic specs fed to HAL? why wasn't IAF practical from the start? unless there is a good answer, IAF isn't above board. Shame on an org that kills its own pilots still using Mig-21, that between-the-rock-and-a-hard-place situation was brought about by the same IAF mentality, feeding over-ambitious reqs to indigenous programs such as Tejas contributing to its delay, even commenting it as mig-21++, my ass!

  24. Whether there is any corruption involved or not, I guess we will never know !! But more serious is the fact that the IAF is very stringent with HAL but lowers the bar for imports citing the lame excuse of increasing competition. This is not surprising because the import lobbies that work in our country do not have the interest of the Nation - similar instance is with Indian Railways who import about 100,000 wheels EVERY year spending about US$100 million, this inspite of India having robust steel industry.

    Awesome expose - keep up the good work.

    03 August 2013

  25. I happened to watch the debate on NDTV last night on the same topic. To my utter dismay Col Shukla was not able to justify his alleged claims made out of the article. As per my experience, the article was a classic example of a selective reading between the lines and a biased approach to malign a highly technical organisation for which Col Shukla(to my understanding) neither would not have the basic training nor would have a practical experience. The idea and reason behind 'creating' such an article would be best known to him, now being with 'Business Standard'. This type of a novice justification would not be 'presented' by even a Gentleman Cadet in any of the Academy, just by having access to a 'comparative analysis' of technical requirements submitted by/to the IHQ Mod/AFHQ. Any layman can do the type of analysis that Col Shukla has done to 'data' that he had access to. As a Cardiologist would never claim expertise on an Orthopedic case, I would request Col Shukla to utilise his expertise and experience of the Army to 'expose' the nexus in Army first, since, I am sure as an officer in the Army, he would have faced the brunt more 'practically' and personally. It is pertinent on us as the veterans, that instead of instilling fear and suspect in the hearts and minds of our 'young brave hearts' we should tread cautiously while reaching to any conclusions without taking an expert advice of qualified experts of the domain, as it is not 'democratic' enough to put every act under a scanner, just because we have a platform to say anything. The DRDO/HAL or for that matter any other defence PSU should confirm the number of INSAS Rifles or Personal Kitting material etc exported to any EU nation or the milestones achieved in Project Tejas, as per the initial 'Project Report'. I remember, certain quarters of veterans having a role in 'lobbying' were up and against Gen V.K. Singh, when he exposed the nexus to its skeleton, during his active service itself, while people who enjoyed the entire service 'gracefully' now have suddenly found enough courage to come out and beat around the bush.

  26. Fact No. 1 - The former CAS alleged to be involved in the VVIP helicopter deal is S P Tyagi and NOT S C Tyagi.

    Fact No. 2 - So far the LCA has not met the operational benchmarks set by HAL/DRDO/ADA themselves. The first Sqn was to be inducted in 2006 but so far nothing constructive has happened. And the expected time frame is now year 2015.Therefore to expect the BTA to see the light of day in a lesser time frame without glitches is being overly optimistic.

    The PC-7 is a basic trainer and needs to fit the speed frame of about 60% of the Hawk. If one expects the PC-7 or BTA to fly at or above 475kmph, then we might as well have the Hawk do the basic training.

    Elsewhere I read that IAF is in a tearing hurry to ground the HPT-32 after lesser fatalities than the MiG - 21. It is an argument that betrays the lack of knowledge of aviation and the battles many successive Chiefs of Air Staff have fought with the MoD for a suitable advanced trainer. Those hundreds of fatalities in MiG-21 accidents were avoidable and IAF did not want it be repeated in the HPT-32.


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