Air force resists Antony’s order for indigenous trainer aircraft - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 25 March 2014

Air force resists Antony’s order for indigenous trainer aircraft

 By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 26th Mar 14

The Indian Air Force (IAF) continues its quest to hand Pilatus Aircraft Ltd of Switzerland a Rs 6,000 contract for 106 PC-7 Mark II basic trainer aircraft (BTA), over and above the 75 Pilatus trainers already bought for Rs 3,850 crore (Swiss Franc 557 million). Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) is currently developing these 106 trainers in India, a project the IAF is sparing no effort to scuttle.

A new IAF “Request for Information” (RFI) --- a pre-tender enquiry --- floated on the MoD website invites Indian companies to submit preliminary bids to supply the IAF with 106 PC-7 Mk II trainers, in partnership with Pilatus. This envisages the import of an unspecified number of BTAs ready built, with the remainder being assembled in India. In MoD’s procurement rulebook, this is termed a “Buy & Make (Indian)” acquisition.

In floating this RFI, the IAF has openly defied the MoD. In 2009, while Okaying the acquisition of 181 trainers, Defence Minister AK Antony himself ruled that 106 trainers would be built in HAL under the “Make” category, while 75 would be imported. Since then, the IAF has repeatedly sought to subvert this decision.

The MoD has confirmed to Business Standard that the 2009 decision to build 106 trainers in HAL, which was taken by the apex Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), remains valid.

“This RFI is a preliminary inquiry that the IAF has sent out, presumably to enlighten itself. This doesn’t mean that an RfP (Request for Proposal, as a defence tender is called) will be issued”, said the MoD spokesperson.

The IAF has consistently resisted HAL’s indigenous trainer --- the Hindustan Turbo Trainer-40 (HTT-40). As Business Standard reported (July 29, 2013, “Indian Air Force at war with Hindustan Aeronautics; wants to import, not build, a trainer”) former IAF boss, Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne, wrote personally to Antony, claiming that the HTT-40 would be costlier than the PC-7 Mk II. A cost analysis by this newspaper, however, suggested the HAL trainer would be much cheaper over its service life. The MoD did not accept the air chief’s request.

The IAF next asked HAL to scuttle its own BTA project and instead build the PC-7 Mk II trainer in Bangalore with Pilatus technology (October 14, 2013, “IAF to HAL: Build Swiss trainer aircraft, don’t develop your own”). HAL, which has worked steadily on the HTT-40, flatly rejected this proposition.

Bizarrely, Air Chief Marshal Browne next suggested that the PC-7 Mk II be built in an IAF base repair depots (BRDs). Admitting that BRDs were meant only to maintain and overhaul aircraft and engines, he claimed last October that they could also assemble aircraft. The MoD simply ignored this suggestion, which was hastily rebutted by the IAF’s maintenance chief, Air Marshal P Kanakaraj.

Now, with Air Chief Marshal Browne having retired and been cleared by the government to be an ambassador, reportedly to Finland, his successor, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, has proposed that Indian private companies build the PC-7 Mk II with Pilatus technology.

Industry experts say there is little in this proposal for private Indian companies. With each BTA priced at about Rs 35 crore, the ten per cent profit margin from building 106 aircraft would be barely Rs 370 crore. This is small compensation for the costs and risks of a company’s first foray into aerospace manufacture.

Meanwhile, HAL continues work on the HTT-40. With MoD funding blocked by the IAF, HAL has already committed Rs 137 crore of its own money; and stands ready to allocate another Rs 200 crore. On a recent visit to HAL, Business Standard was briefed that the design of structural components is done; assembly drawings will be done by April. A first flight is targeted for early 2015.

“We had planned to build one flying prototype of the HTT-40 and one ground test specimen. Now, to speed up design and flight testing, HAL will build three flying prototypes and two ground test models,” says Prashantsingh Bhadoria, one of HAL’s talented young designers who is deputy head of the HTT-40 project.

HAL designers are confident that, given their major role in developing the Tejas fighter; and the Sitara intermediate jet trainer (IJT) that is nearly complete, there is little doubt that the company will build a successful basic trainer.

IAF planners know that the procurement cost of an aircraft is just one-fifth to one-tenth of the cost of operating it through its service life. For that reason, an indigenous aircraft is significantly cheaper in the long term than an overseas purchase, where the IAF remains dependent for spares, overhauls and upgrades on foreign vendors who invariably jack up prices after the initial sale.

HAL designers say they are ensuring a high degree of commonality in parts and sub-systems between the HTT-40 and the IJT. This will reduce production costs and also ease inventory problems in training establishments.

IAF pilots need three types of trainer aircraft. In Stage-1 training, rookie pilots learn basic flying on aircraft like the PC-7 Mk I, and the HTT-40. Stage-2 training involves more complex flying on aircraft like the Kiran Mark 1, or the Sitara IJT. Stage-3 training, which prepares pilots for occupying the cockpits of frontline IAF fighters, is done on Hawk advanced jet trainers, which are built in HAL. 


  1. why the pain?
    Imported air force ko desi khana pasand nahi hai. Badhajme hoti hai.

  2. Easy problem hai.
    Imported plane ke sath Gore pilot ko laoo, aur dekho requirement kaise badal jati hai.

    Imported Plane --> Imported pilot
    Desi Plane --> Desi Pilot


  3. Its not understood as to why the IAF wants to get this one so desperately at the cost of an indian project....

    MMRCA is enough to feed their greed for next decade or so....

    They have gone behind FGFA and now this

  4. What clause of DPP allows them to rename it as Buy and Make ( Indian) and if this was the case why was it not made part of original RFQ itself so that all competitors get a fair chance at it...

    HAL well...its the first time its showing the guts to invest its own money and demonstrate.....hats off and taking fight to finish is what is needed....if they dont perform ...well IAF anyhow is getting its way...

  5. How come browne has got plump posting for finland and not switzerland...

    No 1 Family must have said that you have still not delievered the amt due for MMRCA , Pilatus, 136 hepters, Jag engine....

    so for the initial installment you get keep screweing indian industry and make merry

  6. Ajai

    You and your fascination for the HTT....its getting better with every day....
    Hope u have checked all facts and then decided whom to it always goes you do side on the right one...

    be prepared for the IAF to get behind you and throw muck calling you names....

  7. Hats off to the master mind IAF...
    first change SQRs..then make sure you buy 75 and show some baniya calculation to show import is cheaper....then call HAL as misleading and force it to close their development work...

    then ask HAL to make it and then ask BRD to make it...and now convert the class of procurment itself...

    Let the CBI investigate this muck and you will see a VVIP sorts of lobby in this....SHAME >>>>>

  8. IAF Pleas allow and accept local products. This is the time to adopt our technologies in defense

  9. Thank you for your continuously fighting for HTT-40s cause. I really subscribe to this desi effort.

    There are 2 big criticisms:
    1. HAL's ability to stand up to timelines. How can HAL allay such fears about this project?

    2. HAL's IJT is still to receive IOC. Isn't HTT-40 poaching on manpower requirements of the IJT, for which there is no replacement in sight.

    It will be great if you can cover these topics in your future reports.

    Thanks in advance.

    Indranil Roy

  10. Dear Ajai,
    I seriously question your intentions in publishing this article. Antony's stance is "My decision is; I will not take a decision". The best way out is to involve HAL. As an user, IAF requires to train pilots on the best technology. Only data can prove if HAL will adhere to timelines. Why don't you publish HAL committed dates for milestones and actual met dates? What is the factor that gives you so much confidence that HAL will meet the deadlines this time? Has the visit to HAL and the briefing tilted the favour against solid data?

  11. An extremely biased article which takes no cognisance of the operational dificulties and indeed hazard to good training which will be thrust on the IAF if they have to fly two different basic trainers. The overall cost of stocks, simulators etc will be doubled. A non performing PSU had to be jolted out of its stupor in not developing the BTA 10 years ago. Their promise even now is to deliver the HTT -40 in 2024!! By which time they would have the blood of many more unfortunate inadequately trained pilots on their hands. So it is time everyone smelled the coffee and stop putting up misleading view points.

  12. somebody... Brownie???... cut got cut... fill the shortage... UPA... Congress... legacy...

  13. Why? IAF is simply hell bent on tarnishing its image..or just doesn't give a shit. Did the Swiss serve fondue to the whole IAF?


    National security at the highest level of threat because the monopoly HAL...refuses to abide by any request if it is not convinced about it. The MoD must be more convinced about where they will be able to make the money supporting HAL is an inevitable choice. Moreso neither MoD nor HAL have any form of national interest in consideration. This is coming out as a blatant case of blackmailing IAF...that if you want aircrafts it will be only through me or we (HAL and MoD) will ensure that IAF does not get any aircraft at all.

    Congress's reputation has nothing more to Def min can play this is in so much deep reputation problem...that now there focus is to openly gulp money and not bother about who is watching or knowing about it.

    Ajai doesn't appreciate this proccurement because if anything is purchased from a non US company...he prefers indigenous route. But if the vendor is a US contractor...than those are the only awesome manufacturers in the world...and hence buying it is the only good!

  15. Hi Ajay

    While I agree with the argument about developed in India BTA's, to say that the IJT is nearing completion is wrong, particularly without presenting any facts about the same. All that we know from various journalists/media reports is that there are still issues with engines, stall and spin tests etc and that it might miss its December FOC deadline (again!). Would it not be appropriate to first focus 100% on getting the IJT and Tejas ready (including the naval version).

    Also, it would be in India's interest to have a separate private entity competing with HAL in the defence aerospace sector and manufacturing of BTA's might be an opening there. It might not be about earning a 10% margin but to get a foot in the door for the likes of Mahindra, L&T, Tata's etc.


  16. we have seen how the air force folks get their commissions in augusta westland/finmechanica deal scam.

  17. What is the current status of HTT-40? Has an engine been selected yet? The goals of having it by 2015 are good, but there hasn't been any news of which engine has been selected, whether it is off the shelf or will be assembled in India etc.

    Given that HAL has its hands full with LCA/IJT/Jaguar upgrades/Hawk etc, do they really have the time and resources to take HTT-40 to completion? IJT is still facing serious issues and yet to have many major issues resolved, like stall speeds, spin tests, engine relighting etc. Has the AL-55s engine's MTBO increased from 300 hours that Saturn provides? Has IAF signed off on a trainer with 300hrs MTBO engine?

    What are the comparable parameters for HTT-40 engine? Hope they have learnt lessons from IJT and going in for a ready engine now, not a new engine to be developed for HTT-40?

  18. There's a typo " a Rs 6,000 contract for"

    probably you mean Rs 6,000 crore

  19. Last ditch effort to scuttle Hal trainer.By issuing RFI,IAF is hoping that Hal will take the bait and take up manufacturing of Piltaus trainer which was turned down earlier.Def min has already frozen all spending until elections are over.Hal has promised 1st flight early 2015.Why the hurry by IAF ? Earlier they used the IJT delay to scuttle Hal Trainer now RFI seems to force the hands of Hal to accept the further manufacturing of Pilatus. Hopefully the new govt will put a stop to imports where necessary to propel manufacture of HTT40/IJT/Tejas/AMCA that will create high end technolgy products that can ensure the security of India. Jai Hind!!!

  20. Ajai,
    My comment from yesterday has still not been loaded on the blog. Looks like I have hit the bull's eye. What is your real interest in this article?

  21. Hi,

    Work is continuing on HTT-40 as seen on HAL eProcurement portal. In Nov-13 HAL invited bids for Angle of Attack system ( for design, development, manufacture and support) and in Mar-14 had invited bid for Fire & Over Heat Protection System( again design, development, manufacture and support). Not sure, if early 2015 flight would be possible with such critical systems still not being in place ( developed and certified for use)...

  22. Why do,we need so many varieties of planes ? Let us reduce the Types to existing PC7, hawk and LCA LIFT

  23. Colonel Shukla, are you sure enough that a company like HAL which has taken nearly 30 years to develop Tejas, more than a decade to develop Sitara, is skilled enough to develop and operationalise a BTT within a few years? I have much doubt.And for your information, Sitara is nowhere near completion. It has some very serious basic issues persisting like asymetry of airframe for which consultation from BAE systems has been soughted, very small flight hours in between two major overhauls of its russian engine for which an improved version of that is being considered.

  24. Iaf doesn't have confidence in drdo. LCA is a shining example. Arjun tank not satisfied for army induction. Nirbhay, Nag are failures.

  25. Mr. Shukla, you are seriously tarnishing your image in minds of all sane observers of Indian defense.
    This biased article and your attempt to scuttle Pilatus sale is laughable at best. Which country in the world operates two different BTA? Even USAF does not enjoy such lavish perks. Your claims - and only your claims - of HTT being cheaper than Pilatus are disingenuous. How can accurate and unbiased cost projection be made about a yet to be developed product? And how can it be compared against a current product? Only a salesman would do such a thing.
    So my question is, have you turned into a salesman for HAL?

  26. Can you publish each machine being developed by HAl their comitted timeline for completion and estimated timeline. The machines in HAL works are : LCH, LUH, Sitara, LCA Mk2, MCA, 5th gen aircraft, Jaguar re-engine program, MMRCA production..... oof more than all other aeroplane companies in the world. Let us not assume the number of talented engineers in HAL is infinite and they are as good as those in Boeing/Sirbus or even Pilatus


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