Air Force to discuss with HAL indigenous trainer road map - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Sunday 1 September 2013

Air Force to discuss with HAL indigenous trainer road map

The initial PC-7 Mark II aircraft that were flown to India by IAF pilots in tandem with Pilatus pilots

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 1st Sept 13

Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) is continuing with developing a made-in-India basic trainer aircraft, despite Indian Air Force (IAF) attempts to scupper the project. On Monday, top IAF air marshals would visit Bangalore to discuss with HAL the proposal and roadmap for an Indian trainer, dubbed the Hindustan Turbo Trainer–40 (HTT-40).

Last month, IAF boss, Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne, had personally targeted the HTT-40. In a letter to Defence Minister AK Antony, Browne asked for the scrapping of the project to build 106 indigenous basic trainer aircraft (BTA). Instead, Browne wants 106 BTAs to be bought from Swiss company, Pilatus. These would supplement 75 PC-7 Mark II trainers already contracted last year with Pilatus for Rs 4,000 crore (Swiss Franc 557 million).

Browne’s letter demanded the immediate purchase of 38 more Pilatus trainers under an “Option Clause”; and then 68 more as “Repeat Procurement”. For Pilatus, that means contracts worth Rs 6,000 crore (Swiss Franc 848 million) without further tendering.

The defence minister has not acceded to that request. For HAL this means a lease of life to the HTT-40 project, which it has pursued with Rs 150 crore of company funds.

Business Standard has learnt that top defence ministry (MoD) decision-makers have serious concerns about the air chief’s request. In end-July this newspaper had revealed serious factual inaccuracies in Browne’s letter to Mr Antony. The IAF chief had claimed that the Swiss trainer cost just Rs 30 crore, far cheaper than the HTT-40. But his calculations were incorrect, since the sliding rupee had raised the cost of each PC-7 Mark II (Swiss Francs 6.09 million) to Rs 40 crore. At current exchange rates each PC-7 Mark II will cost over Rs 43 crore.

Pilatus is paid for each trainer at the time that it is delivered. Several of the 15 trainers delivered so far have cost Rs 41 crore each; the Swiss company will be paid Rs 43 crore for each PC-7 Mark II delivered today.

Furthermore, the IAF inexplicably diluted 12 benchmarks between March and October 2009, including some relating to pilot safety. These changes benefited Pilatus, bringing the PC-7 Mark II into compliance with the tender specifications.

Procurement rules prohibit diluting or changing equipment specifications. The on-going CBI enquiry into the VVIP helicopter purchase from AgustaWestland is specifically examining how requirements were changed to benefit AgustaWestland.

Also raising eyebrows within the MoD is the alacrity with which the IAF grounded the HPT-32 trainer after a fatal crash in 2009. Grounding this aircraft, on which IAF rookie pilots learned to fly, created a pilot training crisis that opened the door for the purchase of the Pilatus PC-7 Mark II.

The IAF labelled the HPT-32 unsafe after 19 pilots were killed in 17 accidents over 23 years of flying, during which the HPT-32 logged 4,00,000 flight hours. That is less than one crash per year on average, a tragedy for the victims but not unusual in flight training.

In contrast, the IAF continued flying the MiG-21, despite its far more horrific safety record. In Jun 2003, then IAF head, Air Chief Marshal S Krishnaswamy, told the media that 98 MiG-21 crashes had occurred in 5,53,000 sorties between 1994-2003, claiming 43 lives --- a record twice as bad as the HPT-32.

MiG fighters have sustained this alarming trend over four decades. Mr Antony has told parliament that 482 IAF MiGs (of all types) have crashed over the years, killing 171 IAF pilots, 8 other servicemen, and 39 civilians.

Grounding the MiG-21 would not have led to the import of a fighter. It would only have increased pressure on the IAF to induct the indigenous Tejas LCA more quickly. But senior MoD officials wonder whether the HPT-32 was unnecessarily grounded to make way for a foreign trainer. 

On Jun 25, 2003, when asked why the IAF continued with the MiG-21 despite so many crashes, Air Chief Marshal Krishnaswamy retorted, “It is my responsibility to exploit every IAF aircraft to the end of its service life. I can’t just throw out serviceable aircraft.”

Today, the IAF has thrown out 110 HPT-32 trainers. Most of them could fly till 2018-2024, assuming an average of 250 flying hours per year. More than 2000 IAF pilots --- including the IAF chief and his son, a Sukhoi-30MKI pilot --- have learned to fly on the HPT-32.

Once grounded, the HPT-32 was never allowed to fly again. HAL implemented a series of safety recommendations made by a high-power committee, headed by an IAF air vice marshal. This included fitting each HPT-32 with a parachute recovery system that would safely bring down an aircraft that had suffered engine failure. But the IAF did not allow any further testing of the trainer.

Interestingly, over the last two decades, HAL has twice offered the IAF a modern trainer. In July 1993, HAL submitted a detailed proposal for building a trainer called the HTT-35, even fabricating a full-scale mock up. Air Headquarters did not respond. In Feb 2004, HAL submitted another detailed proposal, which the IAF again ignored. The fate of the HTT-40 is now in the MoD’s hands.


  1. Hopefully something good comes out of this and we can have an air force that is Made in India. Kudos Colonel Sir in exposing this. Please keep up the good work.

  2. If HAL really has a good product, then they should sell it internationally. Don't need to wait for IAF. Once the foreign buyer is satisfied with the product and gives praises, automatically locals will buy. But to meet international expectations, desi quality standards won't do. That is where HAL will fail to qualify, meeting international standards of quality in each and every stage of manufacturing of finished product.

  3. @Ajai sir

    just a question few questions

    Q1 which country's AF in the world uses 2 different types of BTAs?

    Q2 If i am not wrong HAL had developed HTT35 in 1990s itself without sanction from MoD, & thats why IAF had refused to accept it, how true is that?

    Q3 HTT40 is nothing but the HTT35 ifself with slight modification, is it not?

    Q4 How much is the import content of HTT40?

    Q5 Will the zero-zero ejection seat or that be made in India, which i presume is your main support point for favoring HTT40 over PC7 which has zero-sixty ejection seat?

    hope to get replies


    Joydeep Ghosh

  4. 1) The first Lne itself" Despite Indian Air Force (IAF) attempts to scupper the project." Shows the un truth, mis information of the article

    The lies of HAL is well supplied trainers that were killing machines and got the MiG 21 a bad image. It rendered the IAF trainerliess for decades and in fact is responsible for murder of many young pilots thru its ancient deficient produces and NIL contribution except in brochures for even an average plane forget a trainer.

    The author of the article perhaps thinks like the cat drinking milk, that young India is un aware of the truth and like the MoD thinks he can take advantage of the gag order of the serving,which India has paid the price for years.
    Perhaps the author's wisdom makes him think that pilots passing out every year can train on an imaginary plane..for another couple of decades!!!

    2) The part of " top defence ministry (MoD) decision-makers have serious concerns about the air chief’s request." is perhaps taken from a comic book to add jest to a serious topic. HAL come under MoD so its like asking a company not to defend itself..might as well have Asaram try himself in court!!! or MoD justify the ill functioning of MDL. Also now the organisation that is responsible for under defended India, that is responsible for the navy lacking submarines, the IAF lacking its squadron strength and the army lacking decent upgradation , apart from OROP being denied, apart from disability pension being denied and responsible for erosion of professionals joining the armed forces thru its warped pay strategy is sitting judge, jury and executioner in the author's article when the whole branch under whom the MoD comes under has failed time and again , from military infrastructure development to making roads to even disaster management.!

    3) The part " In contrast, the IAF continued flying the MiG-21"..Now this brings us to 2 points, either the author does not know or studied the faultline or on purpose wishes to close his eyes and spread mis information. It is a known fact that the Mig 21s were used as a basic trainer because HAL had wished the young rookies to fly on brochure planes. Such misinformation again does not hold water in intellectual circles as the MiG 21 is being flown in other parts of the world too..and to top it up..the 21 produced.
    INfact here the auhtor and HAL are caught in their web of misinformation as it is HAL that upgrades, repairs and overhauls the Mig 21 of India. Whom are we trying to cheat, ourselves?

    Another proof of the pudding lies in intrenational players..fearing to tread when it comes to joint-ness with HAL..why do we think the rafaelle deal is not on track....isnt it a big reason that the french have cast serious apprehensions on HAL and the MoDs production line..another proof of the pudding is the brochure submarines diving on MDL, MoD's brochures since the last 2 decades....effecting cost exscalation and also rusting of steel plates..half job done that too cocked it up.

    There will be a time when the IAF pilots refuse to fly HAL produces...what is the author going to do then/.join HAL/DRDO MoD and cast them spies?

    As said before ,HAL is turning out to be the most dangerous element to Indian it will blackmail good people at their peaks to induct brochure machinery and dangerous products.

    As far as their propoganda boys those paid by the politicians to clap at their talks or disrupt, divert the attention,it is best to ignore the HAL's paid boys on blogs who will tom tom about imaginery HAL's machines and imaginery faults with serving personnel

  5. Aviation Stats Guru1 September 2013 at 22:12

    Good article, but I don't think you can so simply compare accident rates in a trainer aircraft and a front-line fighter jet like the MiG-21. They cannot be presumed to have the same baseline risk.

    Ideally you want to compare deviations from some baseline, such as the global average for comparable aircraft.

  6. Comparing HPT to Mig is like comparing a pea shooter to a .50 cal machine gun. If a trainee has to get on his plane with a prayer on his lip then there is something seriously wrong somewhere. Better still, compare the crash statistics of Pilatus to HPT-32 over the last 23 years and the fatalities/injuries involved in each. That would make for a fairer comparison than comparing the crash rate of HPT-32 to Mig-21. The Mig-21 is a flying coffin not only in the Indian Air Force but the world over. It has an abysmal record.

  7. Please see things from the point of view of the actual men who fly these planes.

    Forget about what games may have been played. All said and done, the bottom line is.....that the HTT-40 is "iffy" to be ready in time for the IAF's extensive training roles.

    It would be great if we can get all round consensus to let both programs prosper:

    1. HTT-40:
    The HTT-40 is akin to the Embraer Tucano-II (a fighting trainer...which packs a punch). Now given the US pull out from Afghanistan.... there is likely to be huge surge of terrorists applying guerilla warfare to us. They may hit us from all 4 corners (not just at the Kashmir LOC). These brainwashed radicals, aided by the Pak-ISI military masterminds (even if "rogue" Pak-ISI elements) are super adept at repeatedly surprising us. Now picturize a few well armed HTT-40s and Sitaras with all the seekers and rockets/guns/bombs onboard...flying in dark nights patrolling our borders around B'desh, North East, Nepal and Sri Lanka borders, and of course the "lower lying" LOC in Punjab/Kashmir. Picturize the HTT-40 pilot locking on such terrorists and hitting the insurgents hard.

    I know some of you will say, a armed drone will do this cheaper. But drones can never COMPLETELY replace manned flights. The two are complementary to each other.

    So I suggest let IAF get the PC-7 Mk-II and let HAL develop the HTT-40 as well, but as an armed light bush attack plane. Only possible with consensus and the MOD and IAF see merit in procuring a few squadrons of HTT-40 as well.

    PS- Given the slow production rate of HAL...everyone should be happy. Pun intended. Remember the Brazilians have used the Tucano-II so effectively for counter insurgency in the Amazon forests.

    2. PC-7 Mk-II:
    Our most immediate requirement is for the light trainer. The PC-7 Mk-II is the cheapest, most reliable, readily available plane worldwide. Lets not endanger this excellent program. We have got a great deal. Please protect it.
    Let not the immediate requirement (of IAF's training units HPT-32 replacement plans) suffer. Let them build this around the PC-7 Mk-II. Also, lets stop the witch hunting of the Chief. Lets address the problem. Not the person (nothing will come out of it....except bad things for us. The Pakis are laughing for sure)

  8. Colonel Shukla, you are beating a dead horse.Development,testing, certification and the comissioning a brand new basic trainer by HAL at this moment is an unrealistic idea.The whole procedure will take at least 10 years and project cost and procurement cost will be much more than todays pilatus cost.From the tecnical point of view most of the vital parts will be imported,e.g. turboprop engine and fuel delivery system from pratt & whittney,hartzel propeller,martin baker ejection seat etc.Development of airframe and avionics of a basic trainer will give no edge to India to make world class fighter aircrafts.Moreover, maintaining two different type aircrafs for a same purpose will only increase cost and logistic complication.So, starting development of a new basic trainer by HAL makes no sense.HAL should give its attention to speedy testing,certification and induction of HJT-36, which has already years beyond schedule.Developmental course of HTT-40 will be protracted as like HJT-36 for sure. Proposal given by IAF chief is rational and it should be implemented immidietly.

  9. While domestic production will ensure savings of forex and maturity of Indian aviation industry, the product has to be of international standards.

  10. Keep dreaming Mr Shukla. There are better places to force indiginization in armed forces, such as medium lift helicopters, missiles, artillery, ARV, UAV etc. HAL missed the bus by not rectifying HHT on time. Ask our pilots which aircraft will they prefer to fly- the answer will be PC 7 unanimously.
    HAL needs to build reputation like ISRO before placing tall claims - currently they are nothing more than a lethargic monopoly that is a common sight in India.

  11. Dear Ajai,

    It would be good if your article also mentions

    1. When is HTT-40 going to roll-out of production lines to IAF squadrons? What if timelines are not met?
    2. What other airforces around the world are using zero-zero ejection seats?
    3. Retire entire MIG 21 fleet as it old and accident prone? There is a difference essential to national security vs ground realities. Oh Yeah! We have the F35s :-)
    4. What next - your advice to Army Chief to retire T55 / T72 variants? They are outdated in today's modern warfare!

    While we would like to have "journalist" be pillars of democratic India, you look like a kid trying to hog limelight! Would you publish apologies for months if HAL is not able to deliver on what is promised?

  12. Can HAL put all its might and resources in finally delivering the IJT and AJT as per Air Force's requirements rather than undertaking another project to spread itself more thin...?

    At the same time, there is no harm in conducting an investigation to look at if the content brought out in this article is true.

  13. Dear Shukla sir why have the blood of future pilots on your hands for a moment of glory out of pillorying th e Air Chief ? The Buisness standard has the dna of the HINDU...commie anti-fauji paper...I kompletely yagree on the need for indigenisation but only if it is viable nat otherwise...your propaganda has sown doubts whre none was needed...mark my word you will rue this day when you slowed this project down..


  14. Col. Shukla, I'll play the Devil's advocate here.

    Your comparison of flight-times of the MiG-21 vs. HPT-32 don't have the same units. In other words, you're comparing sorties vs. flight-hours.

    If you could get the exact number of flight-hours flown by the MiG-21 between 1994-2003, and if that's comparable to the HPT-32's flight hours, then -- and only then -- you have a rock-solid case against the IAF.

  15. I am totally agreeing with the view of one Mr. Anonymous who is advocating use of HTT 40 against insurgents. It is a brilliant idea, even BSF./CRPF can use those planes against Naxlites.

  16. Dear Ajai Shukla,
    Please be fair. publish the timelines within which HAL has promised to deliver a fully certified HTT 40 to the IAF for their training needs. As somebody has pointed out, what if they cannot meet it. Will you be responsible for the IAF trainees who cannot meet their requirements?
    Easy to create scandal from nowhere and help the babus to take no decision.
    As somebody else has pointed out, you have blood on your hands sir, for a mere moment of egoistic glory.

  17. Hi Ajai,

    If you read what your readers are telling you and the underlying focus, we are talking here about something that is of paramount importance to the Armed forces and the country- the role of HAL Please write the next couple of articles on modernizing the HAL.
    Every comment on the blog has something adverse to say about HAL do we need such a behemoth? wouldn't our public money given to HAL be better utilized by asking HAL to find money from the market by divesting ? See how Embraer changed its game and is a force to reckon with. If HAL is sitting on a 10 year order book can we do it with the involvement of the private sector and create more jobs and in the process create a robust supply chain and a competitor to HAL. That I think is the main issue will MoD and HAL want a competitor? My guess is that it fears it will go the BSNL way

  18. If u buy PC-7....15 years on, u have to buy PC-17. Unless u build the HTT-40 now, u cannot build the HTT-45. It is a vicious cycle that has to be broken. By abruptly grounding the HPT-32 the HTT programme has been compromised.Another 5 years and HTT-40 would have been ready.
    I grieved when the two experienced pilots died but it does not justify the body blow to indigenization efforts. The decision simply was not in national interest. Patience, broad-vision and sacrifice is expected of Generals.
    Once Tejas reaches FOC, the next fighter will take half the time. We have to accept that there will be tremendous inertia in the beginning and you have to overcome it with great will power. HAL has to be given clear directions and mandate to enable it to become a world class aerospace company by 2030.

  19. Dear Mr Shukla,
    You seem to be only reciting HAL's version. A company which has no qualms about safety. The HPT 32 was a death trap. It's glide ratio with engine off was worse than a MiG 21's. A horribly under equipped aircraft with no instrumentation worth the name,it had very low training value and a terrible safety record. In fact at on time rookie pilots were doing solo sorties with an instructor as co-pilot!

    There was no ejection seat and a trainee pilot, if he had sufficient height was expected to bale out by standing on the wing!!

    One expects better researched piece from you, as also both sides of the story.
    This IAF Chief has the guts to put his foot down. Wish others had done it before. Shame on you to run his judgement down.
    You are just singing one of our most inefficient captive PSU's tune - any favours for you or your paper?


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