In Tejas’ shadow, Sitara trainer also poised to enter service - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Wednesday 18 December 2013

In Tejas’ shadow, Sitara trainer also poised to enter service

By Ajai Shukla
HAL, Bengaluru
Business Standard, 19th Dec 13

While the spotlight plays over the Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA) that will, on Friday, be certified fit for induction into the Indian Air Force (IAF), another India-built aircraft is at the cusp of readiness. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has revealed that its Sitara intermediate jet trainer (IJT), which has been in development since 1999, is now “just weeks away from certification”.

Defence Minister AK Antony is flying down to Bengaluru to award the Tejas its initial operational certificate (IOC) on Friday. The Sitara’s success in intensive flight-testing this year means that he could soon be making another trip to award an identical certification to the Sitara.

For the IAF, there could hardly be better news. The recent purchase of the PC-7 Mark II basic trainer from Swiss company, Pilatus; and HAL’s simultaneous project to develop the HTT-40 basic trainer, caters for training of rookie pilots --- termed Stage-1 training. The induction of the Hawk advanced jet trainer (AJT) in 2008 took care of Stage-3 training, after which pilots fly frontline IAF fighters. But Stage-2 intermediate training remains a gaping void that is inadequately filled by vintage Kiran Mark II trainers that date back to the 1970s.

“We have accelerated flight testing dramatically this year, doing 183 sorties --- thrice as many as any preceding year. Last month we completed bombing trials and extra fuel tank trials in Jamnagar. Now we are completing the stall and spin tests, after which we will get the IOC,” says Krishna Kumar, Project Manager IJT for HAL.

Business Standard visited the HAL division where the Sitara is undergoing flight-testing. One prototype was taxiing out for a test-flight, while technicians readied others. So keen is the IAF to get the Sitara into service that HAL has been allowed to press into flight-testing the 12 trainers the IAF ordered.

In March 2010, the IAF also ordered 73 Sitara trainers for Rs 6,180 crore. These would be based at the IAF flying school coming up in Deesa, in Gujarat; and in Tambaram, where the IAF trains flying instructors.

A tour of the Sitara makes it clear why the IAF is so keen. Unlike the clunky Kiran, the Sitara’s clean-cut lines are distinctly 21st century. While the Kiran seated both instructor and trainee side by side, the Sitara has tandem seating with the trainee pilot seated alone in front, where he gets the feel of flying solo even though he knows the instructor is seated behind. The Kiran’s quaint analog instruments are replaced with smart digital display screens, like those that equip modern fighters. From his rear seat, the instructor can control the trainee pilot’s instruments, simulating flight emergencies for the rookie to handle.

“Everyone who sees the Sitara remarks upon its ‘wow’ factor. Many don’t believe that this is an entirely India-designed aircraft,” says Kumar.

HAL was sanctioned Rs 180 crore in July 1999 to develop the aircraft and build two flying prototypes. In 2005, two years after the prototype first flew, the budget was raised to Rs 467 crore to order a more powerful engine from Russia and to build an all-glass cockpit. Eventually, development has cost Rs 634.23 crore. In addition, the IAF ordered 12 limited series production (LSP) Sitaras in 2006 for Rs 486.82 crore. That works out to Rs 40 crore per trainer, a fraction of what would be paid abroad for a similar aircraft that also integrates rockets, guns and bombs.

The Sitara has faced its share of development setbacks. Around 2006, it was making good progress when it was decided to fit a new engine --- the AL-55I engine, specially developed in Russia for the Sitara, which HAL will manufacture in Koraput, Odisha. In 2011, flight-testing suffered a major setback when a Sitara crashed in stall testing, fortunately without loss of life.

All that is history, say HAL project managers, as the Sitara is poised to enter service. It flies up to 700 kilometres per hour and up to 9,000 metres high. It can sustain gravitational forces from minus 2.5G to plus 7G (seven times the force of gravity). It has a range of 1000 kilometres, extendable to 1,500 kilometres with external drop tanks. 


  1. Thank you for the update.

    Just one technical matter. -2.5G to 7G is a measure of acceleration (where G is 9.8 m/s^2 at sea-level. Also the forces that are acting on the plane when it is experiencing those accelerations is not gravitational force. It is generally the lift and thrust. The gravitational force remains almost the same.

    I just wanted to convey it to you. You need not publish this comment.

    Best regards,
    Indranil Roy

  2. Great news. My best wishes to get IOC-2 for Tejas. My wishes for Sitara.

  3. Dear Ajai,

    How many kinds of trainers are required for IAF? There seems to be confusion going on, in part created by Prasun Sengupta. He mentions the following:

    1. PC-7 Mark II has taken care of ab-initio training. Developing HTT-40 is a waste of time and resources and IAF is not going to allow two separate chains of logistics for this type of trainer.

    2. After the purchase of BAe HAWK AJT, the relevance of HAL's IJT is lost. IJT was being developed because IAF had no expectation of getting Hawk or other similar trainer in any case. Now they have got Hawk, they are maintaining silence on IJT's induction or development, if not already discreetly asked for the project's termination.

    3. Prasun is making pitch for LIFT (Lead-in Fighter Trainers) which, he argues, that IAF was making do with MiG-21 so far. He mentions that the further development of LCA as an additional LIFT trainer would be a better option rather than buying YAK LIFT trainer or others.

    This all cacophony is creating confusion among aviation enthusiasts. Will you please find out and clarify as to how many types of trainers are required? How many of the following aircrafts, IAF is going to end up with?

    PC-7 Mark II/HTT-40,
    IJT Sitara,
    AJT Hawk,
    LIFT Tejas/Yak

    or all of them?

  4. Dear Indranil,

    Are you referring to what are commonly called "G Forces"?

    If so, what, in your opinion, does the "G" stand for?

  5. This is great news , continue with the same numbers of basic trainers , get IOC for IJT and start producing 6-8 planes a year and increase to 16 planes per year. Do not increase the numbers of AJT and develop the Tejas MK 1 as single and twin seat trainers. Buy big number of simulators and train pilots on them also with different sort of missions. Quickly roll out Tejas MK2 and get FOC and start building in big numbers.simultaneously develop twin engined Tejas MK 3 quickly get it certified quickly and start building in big numbers. this would be a better option as Rafale is going to cost dearly to buy , maintain and upgrade considering the upgrade price of mirage with outdated radar and same old body and obsolete return there would be no transfer of technology , mark my words on this.tejas MK 3 is a cost effective better option as it can have internal weapons bay. Start building and testing AMCA also with confidence as soon as MK2 is certified and MK 3 is developed as this would carry low risk in designing and certifying as Mk3 would have lot in common with MK2. The need of the hour is numbers and Tejas and AMCA development would be cost effective options.similarly develop nag with long range nag with short range which is man portable and Helena as 20 Tejas with a load of Helena's can knock out a full armored brigade in minutes as well as knock out the artillery. The Sam has to have long range and AEWCS are about to join in. I like navy approach to build everything here with selective help in crucial sensors and electronics right now and within next 5 years some degree of indeginisation would take place in ships as well as in submarines. The first few products would take time but once it starts then it is here to is cost effective option and must be implemented with private sector also contributing in subsystems. Numbers are needed and attempt should be made to get them in low nest possible price at earliest and up gradation is a constant process.
    Where we're we in missile technology and space program few years back and where it is today.


  6. Now, HAL is eligible to move ahead with HTT-40. Raj, The names of the aircrafts you mentioned, itself provides you with the objectives they would fullfill then, what the confustion. All of then are necessary except probably HTT-40. I donot buy your second argument, airforce always wanted IJT and that too desperatly even after having AJT. HTT-40 would be basic trainer. PC-7 Mark II would be basic trainer as well as an insufficient Intermideate Jet trainer. IJT Sitara would fullfill functions of Intermideate Jet trainer but not the functiones of Advanced Jet trainer hence we need AJT Hawk which will fullfill functions of Advanced Jet trainer. Now the LIFT Tejas trainer would help pilots to train before they fly supersonic aircrafts solo. Where is the confusion. But again each aircraft type of russian origin also have twin seat trainers. Developing HTT-40 would be nice it could be used by aviation sporting entusiasts, it can also be used by indian airforce in future when it needs more basic trainers, it can also be used to donate to afghanistan to fight terrorists. The low cost may attract buyers abroad.

  7. Dear anonymous. G is a unit of acceleration, not of gravitational force. It so happens that the acceleration due to gravity is termed as 1 G. Indranil is right. A plane in a 5 G turn still has only 1 G of gravitational force acting on it, but the turn imposes a 5 G force on the aircraft and pilot.

    yours sincerely

    another anonymous nit-picker

  8. @Sandy,

    The confusion over the Air Force's willingness to buy IJT Sitara has been created by Prasun Sengupta in his blog "Trishul-Trident".

    He has been arguing incessantly that after the induction of AJT Hawk, IJT has become an orphan baby and so IAF and MoD are maintaining slience over its induction, if not project wind up.

  9. A minor correction: Stage-2 training for the fighter stream in the IAF is done in the Kiran Mk-I/Mk-IA aircraft (not Mk-II).
    Mk-IIs are currently being flown at the FIS, Tambaram and were used for Stage-3 training along with the (now retired) Iskras, a role now taken over by Hawks.

  10. Raj, Prasun has got very independent mind and strong convictions that does not mean we need to submit and be slave of his convictions; we can have our independent thinking and can reach our own conclusions as long as God has given us with a brain which can analyse facts.

    Well, I remember some years ago I myself and some others where vehemently against Ajai and other Journalists. We strongly felt Ajai was not analysing things in perspective. It is again Ajai itself with critically timed articles which changed opinion on Arjun and LCA apart from Frontier India's George.

    All ends up well, we are jobless now because Ajai is now a fan of Arjun and LCA does write articles which are well balanced. He criticise and praise by providing valid reason. And that is acceptable to all.

  11. Colonel Shukla,

    Once can see that the planes in the pictures are fitted out for stall and spin tests. I wish the team and the pilots safe landings through your blog.

    I am also very interested to know about:
    1. What are the changes since the last crash. I can see that there are no nose strakes and wing fences. Instead there are vortex generators and possibly ribbed ailerons. What is that red tab on the tail?
    2. What is the state of the production? What are the plans for future?
    3. What would be left to do for FOC?
    4. I am guessing that the external payload consists UB-16/32 rocket launchers, 500 lb bombs. But any details on the gunpod would be greatly appreciated. There has been speculations that it would be fuselage mounted gun pod with a 12.7mm gun. Are the fuel tanks newly designed or the same as that on the Kirans?

    Thank you.

    Best regards,
    Indranil Roy

  12. Errata: the gun will be carried on the inner pylon on the wing and not on the fuselage.

    There is considerable interest on the status of the AL-55I engine of the IJT. It would be great if you did an article on the same. How is HAL/SAturn working on getting past the hurdle, and what look like reasonable timelines.

    Sorry for the flood of requests :-)

    Best regards,
    Indranil Roy

  13. How come your article says IAF is interested in IJT Sitara whereas says otherwise. It says IAF has given up on IJT Sitara

  14. Ajai Ji/Ajai sir/Ajai bhai/Ajai Shukla...You forgot to ask HAL one pertinent question....“just weeks away from certification”...and how many weeks away would that be? Is this due to genuine professional incompetence or are you complacent with HAL's and its string master's (read import lobby) agenda?

  15. Ajai Ji/Ajai sir/Ajai bhai/Ajai Shukla...I am sure you have heard the words Continuity and follow-up, correct me if I am wrong. But then I wonder why these words don't strike up in your mind?

    The above article does not imply that the IAF will never buy IJT, neither am I. However, your article does paint a picture on the state of affairs that is miles away from the truth.

    For Krishna Kumar & you timelines may be relative or may be its just play of words or even worse this may be just about count of unique visitors to the blog; but for the likes of Baldy and others who were and are involved directly & indirectly this is a matter of life & death.

    So, may I humbly request you to stop posting articles and stories that you possibly cannot follow-up.

    Thank You.


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