IAF to HAL: build Swiss trainer aircraft, don’t develop your own - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Sunday 13 October 2013

IAF to HAL: build Swiss trainer aircraft, don’t develop your own

The IAF's first PC-7 Mark II basic trainer, which Pilatus delivered earlier this year

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 14th Oct 13

Indian Air Force (IAF) chief, Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne has sugar coated his bid to import 106 basic trainer aircraft from Pilatus Aircraft Co, by proposing that Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) builds the trainers in Bangalore to blueprints supplied by the Swiss company.

HAL, which is designing its own basic trainer for the IAF --- the Hindustan Turbo Trainer – 40 (HTT-40) --- has flatly rejected the proposal. The company has allocated Rs 130 crore of its own money to continue developing the HTT-40, which is projected to fly by 2015.

Browne’s new ploy follows Defence Minister AK Antony’s cold-shouldering of a letter from the IAF chief, demanding an over-the-counter purchase of 106 PC-7 Mark II trainers from Pilatus. Such a purchase would be a windfall for the Swiss company worth at least Swiss Francs 750 million (Rs 5000 crore).

Last year, the IAF purchased 75 PC-7 Mark II trainers for 557 million Swiss Francs (Rs 3,725 crore). Pilatus has delivered at least 15 of those trainers.

When the purchase of 75 trainers from the global market was approved in 2009, it was decided that HAL would simultaneously design and build 106 trainers. But, in July, as reported first by Business Standard (July 29, “Indian Air Force at war with Hindustan Aeronautics; wants to import, not build, a trainer”) the IAF chief wrote to Mr Antony, savaging HAL’s proposal and recommending that this order be handed to Pilatus.

In his unprecedented attack on HAL, which builds a range of aircraft for the IAF, Browne alleged that the HTT-40 trainer would cost Rs 43.59 crore per aircraft, which inflation would raise to Rs 64.77 crore in 2020. Arguing for Pilatus, Browne’s letter falsely claimed that the PC-7 Mark II costs just Rs 30 crore per aircraft when, in fact, India was already paying Pilatus about Rs 40 crore (Swiss Francs 6.09 million) for each trainer supplied.

The IAF confirms that it approached HAL to build 106 PC-7 Mark IIs under license from Pilatus, even while rubbishing HAL’s ability to design and build the HTT-40. An IAF statement to Business Standard says, “IAF had invited HAL to manufacture the balance PC-7 Mk II required by IAF under license in India. However, in their own interest HAL declined to participate in license manufacture of the PC-7 Mk II.”

Turned away by HAL, Browne bizarrely claimed during the Air Force Day functions on Oct 8 that the IAF’s base repair depots (BRDs) --- which were set up to maintain and overhaul aircraft and engines --- could also build aircraft. The IAF chief declared, "The 14 base repair depots (BRDs) have grown in both capability and capacity in a manner that the day is not far when it will be able to develop its own medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA)."

A reality check was quickly provided by the IAF’s maintenance chief, Air Marshal P Kanakaraj, who admitted that assembling aircraft “(would) be a quantum jump in the working of the maintenance command… We are bound to make mistakes initially, so pilot-less aircraft are an ideal platform to start off.”

Asked to comment on whether BRDs would now build Pilatus trainers, the IAF responded: “No decision has been taken on manufacturing the trainer aircraft in Base Repair Depot. As and when any decision is taken at a later stage, you would be informed.”

Meanwhile, the IAF is squeezing HAL to reflect a higher price for the HTT-40. At a recent meeting in HAL Bangalore, Air Marshal Fernandes flew down from Air Headquarters in New Delhi to demand that a slew of inputs, including the cost of development, be factored into the cost.

Ironically, the IAF glosses over the most compelling argument for an indigenous trainer --- the cost of spares, maintenance, overhauls and upgrades during 40 years of operational service. These “life-cycle costs”, which add up to at least thrice the procurement cost of an aircraft, would be significantly higher in the case of Pilatus, also creating a dependency on the continuation of the Pilatus manufacturing line.

Business Standard has also highlighted (July 30, “IAF diluted at least 12 benchmarks for trainer aircraft”) the murkiness around the decision to award Pilatus the contract. A range of crucial performance benchmarks were diluted by the IAF after it was decided to buy 75 trainers from the global market, even as HAL developed 106 trainers. Diluting these benchmarks made the PC-7 Mark II eligible for purchase.

The IAF, which pushed through the proposal to import 75 trainers while HAL designed and built 106 HTT-40s now argues that operating two different types of trainers would complicate administration and logistics.


  1. Looks like we will have IAF without planes after an army without artillery guns. Can you please make simple table : Aircraft needed by IAF (LCA,IJT, LCH, LUH, MTA, Avro replacement) , by when needed, date comitted by HAL, actual date or likely date to be delivered ?

  2. The first line itself shows the jaundiced report. Perhaps HAL must have contacted the author as it is scared that just like the french highlighting serious doubts on HAL's part to build the rafaelle and spoil its image, pilatus would have the same reservations, thus proving what is already known of HAL due to its mis and ill functioning.

    Secondly the desperate attempt and bluff of HAL and the author to malign and blackmail the ACM to either accept non performing and non existent!!! products (thus putting a stop to training pilots or to train them on fighter a/cs increasing the attrition rate of a/c and pilots apart from the fighter a/c getting a bad name ) is been called and caught. Not only the ACM but all the ranks and files of the IAF and even veterans stand by the ACM's decision...perhaps HAL and MoD should start dangling carrots to second in commands to accept deficient products.

    As far as Business standards earlier report its faults have been amply highlighted..

    Perhaps the author trained to ride a bicycle on an imaginary cycle, ;learnt to swim by moving hands in the air...though was not trained on a fictitious bullet and an imaginary gun but real armaments yet wishes the IAF to train their pilots in an imaginary plane and stop trainers to be procured by trying to find faults with the ones got , that too as there was no other fall back and at the very last minute due to HAL,MoD's negligence towards their responsibility and wasting time and money over decades.

    Will business standard and MoD, HAL ask the civil aviation to use the SARAS to fly civilians or train their pilots..can HAL ask Indian civilian authorities dealing with training pilots to train them on the imaginary plane? and lastly the lies caught once again as if HAL is so sure why blackmail the iAF to wait and buy its plane..why not sell it in International market with the authors guarantee that it will be better and without any benchmarks being bended?

  3. HAL & ADA have not managed to get FOC for the Tejas. What makes you believe that they can build a trainer aircraft in 2 years ? The IAF chief was offering HAL a deal they don't deserve and they refused it because it hurt their ego ! The imbecile talking heads at HAL should all be fired and all their contracts handed over to the Tatas, L&T and Mahindra.

  4. sometimes i wonder if the politicians are to blame for importing aircrafts when our own air force chief is bent on importing even the trainer aircrafts..its time to reduce dependancy...

  5. Which Air Force operates two different types of basic trainers? NONE
    I agree with what IAF is demanding.

  6. The article presents only one side of the story. HAL is primarily responsible for the situation they are in by not starting on the design 10 years ago. Were they not aware that the HPT 32 required replacement? When will they learn to be a proactive forward thinking business? They always want to experiment on the IAF budget and produce substandard aircraft. The IAF is rightly tired of funding this blackhole of a goliath.

  7. Army sabotages Arjun Tank to get T-90, Airforce beeing involved in LCA tejas keeps changing specs to dealay. if airforce want to follow navy then they must also look at status of scorpene sub's. IAF changes specs to make pilatus eligible,
    Untill unless transperancy is brought , accountabality of HAL , ADA, some DRDO org is brought along with Armed forces self reliance is distant dream. Bringing arm's procurement under "RTI". Making things transperant is way to go along with privatisation... !

  8. Dear Shukla,

    It appears that you have decided to pick a bone with ACM Browne?! Or is it that you have decided to become a front man for HAL’s ineptitude and incompetence?

    Why did you or your brethren in the press community not oppose the deal for PC-7 before it was inked? Why didn’t anyone go after HAL to find a viable time bound solution to the problems with HPT-32? Why are you not going after HAL now when you know the famed HAL IJT is no-where on the horizon when HAL should already have started to mass produce them by now?

    Why fault the services? When our DPSUs produce quality products they get picked-up by customers, case in point Dhruv helicopters made by HAL, Akash SAM made by other DPSU and so on.

    What do you think will happen with IJTs? The IAF will continue to wait and wait and wait-forever until the rate of accidents and fatalities among the trainee pilots raise in the next few years and then someone will say enough is enough we are buying Intermediate Trainers off the shelf. And then again you or the likes of you will go after IAF.

    For goodness sake be aware of the ground realities man. IAF, the customer, hates HAL; DRDO, the technology partner (at least for Tejas) loath HAL; the suppliers, BAe, Dassault, treat HAL with contempt and you still see merit in HAL’s claims of designing and delivering a basic trainer in next few years? This completely eludes me.

    The root cause of India’s inability to produce strategic weapons lay squarely with DPSUs. Agreed our armed forces are no big fans of 'indigenisation', but it is the DPSUs that put up a façade of production capability that is exploited by the likes of Russians and Israelis to further cripple us from developing true military-industry base. DPSUs are a front to channel billions in to the pockets of corrupt Politico- Bureaucratic-Military nexus.

    So the solution is simple - Privatise the DPSUs, shut them down if they unionize and refuse to agree to it. Destroy the DPSUs, burn them down and then you are left with only two choice – A. Either you import everything and let the people of India know where we stand in terms of defence production capability or B. Build true capability and develop niche by having only ‘for profit’ organisation as players within the defence design and manufacturing sector.

  9. No point having two separate trainers in the IAF.

    I dont care who builds the balance trainers IAF needs - Pilatus or HAL.
    Just see who is which is cheaper, who is more willing, and who is more capable. And take decision.

    If HAL is still willing to build the HTT-40, as a light attack turboprop, that too without a firm IAF requirement....then the HTT-40 can see light of the day.

    I am personally not interested in a larger debate on this. There are other more burning issues to tackle.

  10. @Ajai sir

    thats exactly what i said some time back that no AF flies 2 different types of basic trainers

    Let me tell you the Rs 140 crore the HAL wants to spend is actually public money

    Building Pilatus BTAs in India will be great news indeed as with HAL already making Hawk AJTs, stage 1 & 2 training will be taken care off

    how i have some idea

    Stage 1 PCMk2
    Stage 2 (part 1) PCMk2
    Stage 2 (part 2) Hawk AJTs
    Stage 3 (part 1) Hawk AJTs
    Stage 3 (part 2) Tejas LIFTs (Lead In Fighter Trainer)

    This will allow IAF pilots train training to fly both the single seat jets like the Rafale, MiGs, PAK FA as well as twin seaters like the Su30MK and FGFA both of which have pilots and WSO


    Joydeep Ghosh

  11. Colonel Shukla, I wondered that you remain stuck to the rotten issue. Depending upon the common sence, it is very clear that there is no need to procure two type of basic trainer.It simply does not make any sence to allow HAL to develop a new basic trainer. Your claim of development of a basic trainer by HAL in 2 years is also quite insane. They are trying to develop IJT for more than a decade but it is nowhere near completation. How such a company can develop a basic trainer in just 2 years? HAL must reject their unboiled plan of basic trainer and concentrate on IJT to supply those as early as possible. Lastly, can I request you to collect the equal amount of cotract benefits of HAL from IAF and spare ACM so as the rational plan to procure a cheap and proven basic trainer not become derailed?

  12. Ajai Sir

    Hats off to you for having followed up this story and making the robbers in the glorious forces from another scandal...and for people talking of training getting affected...what will happen to the 75 pilatus...didnt the IAF use @ 80 odd HPTs all along for training...so whats this hulla of training void about...its clear the top man needs to push this sales..as the commissions are linked to it....

  13. For people asking about two aircraft an airforce as small as Turkey has remained loyal to a home grown trainer even after having a kitty of KT1....120 crores being public money...well its not even a portion of what this airforce is spending on the maintenance...with a tech transfer for less than 50% of the equipment...next 30 years we will be hostage to the swiss....Keep up your antee colnel...you are doing a great job...

  14. http://www.airforce-technology.com/news/newsturkish-air-force-cleared-to-order-hurkus-trainer-aircraft

    he Turkish Undersecretariat for Defense Industries (SSM) has cleared the national air force's procurement of an initial batch of Hurkus trainer aircraft from Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI).
    Expected to be signed in the next few months, the unspecified contract will cover 15 B-model aircraft, FlightGlobal reports.
    The aircraft are expected to supplement the 40 Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) built KT-1 aircraft, which the air force is introducing as replacements for its ageing Cessna T-37 jet trainer-attack type aircraft.

  15. Hello Ajai,
    I am going to say what many others have already commented earlier.I do not think that you are objective in your reporting..you are only presenting HAL's Side..

    on this issue i listened to your debate with some former IAF persons on NDTV and frankly they presented a very believable reply to each of your allegations while you could hardly convince ....

    Doesn't it strike you that HAL has so far being unsuccessful with its most efforts..before defending HAL you should also write in detail about their glaring failures.

    Also i wonder if you keep on going like this i wonder for how long people gonna read your blog...

    that is a food for thought....


  16. Why HAL. is so obsessed with a pony trainer ! Why they are not willing to make Tejas MK1 or say MK2 ? Because Tejas is difficult to make or they do not have that expertise ?

  17. IAF/MOD agreed to Pilatus/HTT 40 combo. Why is IAF objecting now ? Hal is not sovereign but has to follow govt diktats. The indigenous projects are reaching maturity. The hands of corrupted ex-military officers are already spreading with current ones that are supported by foreign and local new entrants which will pave way for the killing off local enterprises. Hal is a target. Dhruv/Dhruv MK4/LCH/LUH will put India on top. Tejas/IJT/HTT 40 will consolidate Hal expertise in aircraft design/manufacturing. There is no nationalism like china in acheiving self-reliance but we are our own worst enemies. Criticise but objectively. Hal will prevail by 2015. GOI/IAF must support local projects. Jai Hind !

  18. IAF/MOD agreed to Pilatus/HTT 40 combo. Why is IAF objecting now ? Hal is not sovereign but has to follow govt diktats. The indigenous projects are reaching maturity. The hands of corrupted ex-military officers are already spreading with current ones that are supported by foreign and local new entrants which will pave way for the killing off local enterprises. Hal is a target. Dhruv/Dhruv MK4/LCH/LUH will put India on top. Tejas/IJT/HTT 40 will consolidate Hal expertise in aircraft design/manufacturing. There is no nationalism like china in acheiving self-reliance but we are our own worst enemies. Criticise but objectively. Hal will prevail by 2015. GOI/IAF must support local projects. Jai Hind !

  19. Why not reverse engineer the Pilatus?

  20. My thoughts on how to move forward:
    • No one should bite more than one can chew…. This applies to HAL as well.
    • Focus on few projects but ensure it get completed with adherence to quality, time and budget…. HAL has enough on its plates already … MTA, LCA, LCH, MRH, IJT, FGFA … why get into something new?
    • Two trainers does not make any sense at all.. after all it is question of training and ultimately safety….
    • I am keen to understand why this issue of PC-7 did not come up when it was decided to be procured from global vendors( Pilatus, South Korean Company etc)?
    • If there is any irregularity in procurement of the basic trainers, then it must be investigated but should it jeopardize the need of basic trainers in a timely manner?

  21. This ACM Browne should be investigated for disproportionate assets. We need some court martial sand executions of these corrupt Army generals and Airforce chiefs. People have started giving these greedy corrupt vermin too much respect just because they wear uniforms to do a paid job and it seems to have gone to their heads. The Airforce is not the customer. The people of India are because it's people who spend money to provide them the equipment. The armed forces are servants of civilians and they bloody we'll make do with what equipment we give them. They don't get to dictate who to buy the equipment from.


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