Pilatus or HAL’s trainer: Parrikar’s first “Make” decision - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Thursday 20 November 2014

Pilatus or HAL’s trainer: Parrikar’s first “Make” decision

A design graphic of the HTT-40, which HAL says will make its first flight next year

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 21 Nov 14

In his first television interview as defence minister, aired on November 14, Manohar Parrikar regretted the military’s “craze for importing everything”, including relatively low-tech weaponry that could be designed and built in India.

“First priority has to be to identify (equipment) for “Indian Make” and then only for the imports, wherever required”, stated Parrikar.

On Saturday, Parrikar’s resolve will be tested at his first Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) meeting, which clears high-value military procurements. The DAC will decide on the Indian Air Force (IAF) proposal for importing 38 Pilatus PC-7 Mark II basic trainer aircraft, even as Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) designs an Indian equivalent, the Hindustan Turbo Trainer – 40 (HTT-40).

HAL credibly claims it can build the HTT-40 basic trainer, having demonstrated design skills on the far more sophisticated Tejas Light Combat Aircraft. The first HTT-40 will fly next year, says HAL.

HAL presents the HTT-40 as a cheaper, better trainer than the PC-7 Mark II. It is built to Indian specifications, can be upgraded over its 30-year service life as technology advances, and maintained and overhauled more cheaply than a foreign trainer.

HAL also points out it can fit sensors and weapons on the HTT-40 to make it a “light attack aircraft”, prohibited by the “end-use conditions” on foreign trainers like the Pilatus.

Arming the HTT-40 would facilitate export to countries like Afghanistan, which desperately wants light attack aircraft to support Afghan soldiers combating the Taliban. Currently, Brazil is building twenty light trainers --- the A-29 Super Tucano --- for the Afghan Air Force, at American cost.

The MoD acknowledges HAL’s logic. On September 29, 2009 the ministry decided to procure the IAF’s requirement of 181 basic trainers from two sources --- 75 bought off-the-shelf from the global market so that IAF training could continue; while HAL would develop and build 106 HTT-40s under the “Make” procedure.

The IAF, however, has consistently undermined this arrangement since May 24, 2012, when it signed a Swiss Francs 577 million (Rs 3,727 crore) contract with Pilatus for 75 trainers. As Business Standard reported (July 29, 2013, “Indian Air Force at war with Hindustan Aeronautics; wants to import, not build, a trainer”) former IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne, wrote to then defence minister, AK Antony, asking him to exercise an “Option Clause” in the contract with Pilatus to procure 38 more PC-7 Mk IIs; and then also buy the remaining 68 trainers from Pilatus as a “Repeat Procurement”, which requires no trials.

For Pilatus, that would have amounted to a windfall of some Swiss Francs 700-800 million (Rs 4,500-5,150 crore). For HAL, and for India, it would mean the doors being slammed on the indigenous HTT-40 project.

Browne told Antony the HTT-40 was too expensive, claiming it would cost Rs 43.59 crore at 2011 prices. In contrast, said the IAF chief, the PC-7 Mark II cost just Rs 30 crore.

Incredibly, the air chief deliberately understated the rupee cost of the PC-7 Mark II. In fact, its price of Swiss Francs 6.09 million amounted to Rs 40 crore, because of the depreciating rupee.

With the MoD refusing to oblige Pilatus with an order for more trainers, the IAF then approached HAL to build the PC-7 Mark II with technology from Pilatus. HAL, which was making headway on the HTT-40, flatly rejected the IAF proposal.

A rattled IAF then decided to go it alone. On October 8, 2013, Browne bizarrely stated that the IAF’s base repair depots (BRDs) --- which are meant to overhaul aircraft and engines --- would build the PC-7 Mark II in partnership with Pilatus. The MoD simply ignored that proposal.

Rebuffed, the IAF then looked towards the private sector. In March, with elections impending, the IAF floated a “Request for Information” --- a pre-tender enquiry --- inviting Indian companies to partner Pilatus and submit preliminary bids to supply the IAF with 106 PC-7 Mk II trainers. In the MoD’s procurement rulebook, this is termed a “Buy & Make (Indian)” acquisition.

In all this, the IAF apparently lost sight of the fact that the DAC had cleared two procurements in two separate categories --- 75 trainers in “Buy Global” and 106 in “Make Indian”.

Defence Minister Parrikar will make a far-reaching decision in Saturday’s DAC meeting. Sanctioning the purchase of 38 more PC-7 Mark IIs from Pilatus would whittle down HAL’s “Make” project from 106 HTT-40s to just 68, undermining the business case for an Indian production line.

“Pilatus is waiting. If India exercises the option for 38 more PC-7 Mark II, the remaining 68 trainers will probably also be built in Switzerland. The HTT-40 project will suffer a mortal blow,” says respected aviation expert, Pushpindar Singh.

(Tomorrow: IAF's Pilatus fleet faces maintenance crunch)


  1. Ajay today there is no choice if we wan't our training schedule to be kept on track without any comprises.

    HTT-40 has been in the planning schedule ever since 1994, when i was Commanding the Basic School, but it never came up to to the ASR

  2. Tejas design... ADA... Sitara design... HAL... Result... Tejas flying... Sitara swimming... HAL HTT 40... Result... HTT 40 drowning...

  3. "HAL credibly claims it can build the HTT-40 basic trainer, having demonstrated design skills on the far more sophisticated Tejas Light Combat Aircraft. The first HTT-40 will fly next year, says HAL."

    Lies! All lies! HAL's credibility after the fiasco that is the IJT is in negative territory. I remember over a decade ago when HAL said the IJT would be "easy" and HAL can "leverage its experience with the development of the LCA" to bring about the IJT quickly. Lies! 15 years later, the IJT program is on the verge of collapse. The IAF does not want a repeat performance.

    If MoD doesn't approve the Pilatus but, the MoD will essentially condemn the IAF to having an ad hoc and suboptimal training regimen for yet another decade. In 2030 the HTT-40 might start to joint the IAF, if they are lucky.

  4. The HT-40 is a paper plane not the Pilatus ! Has HAL delivered on the IJT project ? Has HAL delivered on the LCA project ? It first needs to complete FOC on the Tejas before opening its big mouth.

  5. HAL's credibility in not all that great. The HAL HPT-32 has had a tragic saga with 19 lives lost. The situation became so bad that IAF abandoned the entire fleet putting the entire training program for cadets in jeopardy. HAL had suggested to deploy a giant parachute in HPT-32 so that when engine failed mid-air, the parachute can bring the aircraft down safely.

    The IJT (HJT-36) is another program which is heading nowhere.

    How can IAF rely on HAL for developing HTT-40 from scratch?? If HAL had the gumption it should have designed HTT-40 on its own budget decades ago as a replacement to HPT-32. There is complete lack of strategic vision in IAF and HAL and MOD.

    HAL should focus on IJT, Tejas ramp-up, MMRCA, Su-30MKi Upgrade and MRO, Mirage-2000 upgrade, Mig-29 upgrade. That's technologically more complex and far more critical.

    BTA represent some 3-4000 crore of business. IJT would mean 10 times of BTA. HAL should work over time to salvage IJT before it goes the BTA way.

  6. NSR says ---

    They should buy sufficient BAT, IJT, and AJT to train future pilots as no parents sends their kids to die in the unsafe trainers...

    Also make sure that India continues with the development of BAT, IJT, ,AJT, etc however how long it takes to develop a safe one...

    It will be Indian owned and it can be further developed forever...It will create aerospace technology, well paying jobs, inspire students to become engineers, etc in India...

    That is the only way to go...even China is doing the same...

    Heart of an airplane is an ENGINE...India was unable to develop an engine on its own for any project...
    All of the problems encountered by India are due mainly to engines...So they should pick a proper engines for BAT, IJT, AJT, fighters, etc and collaborate with the original manufacturer to go forward successfully...

    It is a crucial and costly mistake to pick up an altogether new Russian engine for IJT...so the end results shows ...

    Learn from mistakes and rectify for future...

  7. HAL should not waste its limited resources in "relatively low-tech weaponry that could be designed and built in India by others".
    The need of the our is to produce 300 plus LCAs in coming years.There is shortage of expertise in the aeronautical domain in India.
    I hope the new Defence Minister will look into wider perspective for the IAF's need.

  8. i think htt 40 needs to be given a mortal blow. specially after HAL's handling of the HJT project.
    what is the guarantee that that they will come out with and produce these trainers within the time span necessary.
    Hal's capabilities are a joke.
    If the HTT 40 gets a go ahead today, we cannot expect the 1st airworthy craft to roll out before 2024 and thats being optimistic.

    So Please Col Shukla, Making Desi is good, infact it is the best option, but that should not come at the cost of pilot's lives for lack of training.

  9. But HAL has not delivered IJT Sitara in last 11 years and not will deliver in next 2 years. HAL if given project, should be forced to sign bond to complete the project in time.

  10. Ajai should volunteer to be test pilot for the HTT-40. In that case, I would vote for HAL!

  11. Hi: Here is how I summarize it, the blame should be shared equally, maybe a little bit more to HAL than IAF.

    I don’t think there is any other global weapons manufacturer right now, like HAL, who wants to make combat jet, helicopters, and trainers, and at the same time continue its run of license production. The order books are full, and yet instead of focusing on core, identifying strategy for growth for its future, HAL, pushes for more; its hunger for having a piece in every deal and order is insatiable. No wonder, the customer, IAF, which desperately wants this bird, has tried every trick to get its hand.

    This may not be a kosher thing to write on your blog, but I am a great believer in the ‘Make in India’ campaign. Hopefully, we will get most of them made in India, instead of importing them directly from the land of cheese and cuckoo clocks. If that does not happen, may be Parrikar, Modi & Co., can think of better and bigger offsets than that which were part of 1st tranche. Tata’s opened quite a facility in Andhra in collaboration with Pilatus due to these offsets.

    I sincerely hope these jets will not be manufactured at IAF BRDs; our pilots will learn to fly on these jets, which are proven, safe and operated globally; at the same time creating employment, skills, and wealth and contribute to our economy.

    Oh, and seriously, that argument, the jets come under end user and cannot be armed – biggest red herring – ever!

  12. The proof is in the pudding, as they say and HAL has not delivered a single operation aircraft in eons. How can IAF be expected to trust HAL then when it constantly fails to deliver on anything?

  13. NSR says ---

    IAF must emulate and take hands on approach for future...
    It can't be hard on HAL with requirements and then relax for foreign companies for AW-101 and MMRCA...Actually Rafale was not even the original bidder of MMRCA but came in with requirements relaxation...it is no wonder why other countries losers hated India procedures...

    So IAF must shape up first and form a vision and push the HAL every step of the way like they do in USA...Any problems with quality, milestones, service, etc, the contractor Program Manager will gone in a second...I think IAF need to take responsibility and push it...

    Notwithstanding all these things, India must have top guy pilots so it must immediately procure enough numbers of BAT, IJT, and AJT so that pilots lives are saved...

    Also to keep pilots coming out very well trained to handle all those sophisticated fighters India is acquiring...Crashing and losing even a single fighter is costly for India in terms of pilot lives and plane...

    There are no ifs and buts...so acquire enough and develop indigenous on war footing with strict program controls...

  14. Greetings, Colonel,

    I've long been a huge fan of your blog, and have heartily applauded your sterling efforts on the Arjun and LCA Tejas. Therefore I find your blind backing of HAL's wild claims re. the HTT-40 rather baffling, and frankly extremely biased. Earlier posters have said all that there is to say about HAL's credibility as an aircraft design and manufacturing house. To that I would just add this: your statement that "HAL credibly claims it can build the HTT-40 basic trainer, having demonstrated design skills on the far more sophisticated Tejas Light Combat Aircraft" is completely wrong. I'd have described it as egregious had it come from anyone else but a writer whom I follow and admire.

    The LCA Tejas was developed from the ground up by the ADA. HAL's task is to manufacture it, a role they're playing fairly badly to date. They couldn't even get the multimode radar, a design job they asked for, right, leading to last minute imports from Elta.

    If HAL has had any successes to date, they're all in the rotary wing arena, where they've done a commendable job with the Dhruv and its spinoffs.

    Just my 2c...

  15. Utter baloney.... hAL haven't delivered the Sitara...and they claim they can test,certify and produce aircraft in such a short time.....

  16. If we can build our own aircraft carrier, we should be at a position to build a fifth generation fighter by now. Clearly lack of support from IAF is the reason for everything. IAF is not setting the future, its decisions are clearly missing long term goals. At some point of time you need adjust for our indigenous industry to grow, either now or after 10 years. There is no other way. Please learn it from the navy

  17. Enough is enough with a crafty and sneaky Chinese dragon giving us pinpricks the need of the hour is to reverse ten years of neglect by Saint Anthony and UPA in degrading defence capabilities.

    HAL should just focus on time bound delivery of existing projects on its plate as given below.
    1. LCA Tejas mark one to be delivered on time with no further delays to IAF.
    2. HaL to deploy its resources to enable ADA & DRDO to rapidly develop and produce first flying prototype of LCA mark two with American built GE engine.
    3. HAL to rapidly execute jaguar Darin stage three up gradation project.
    4. HAL to rapidly position itself to upgrading mirage 2000 dash5 upgrade fighters of IAF without any inordinate delays.
    5. HAL to focus on speedily executing delivery of locally built Sukhoi SU-30MKI fighters and maintain strict quality control over all aspects of its production process.
    6. HAL to continue focus on delivering speedily ALH Dhruv and RUDRA helicopters to the tri services.
    7. HAL to ensure time bound progress in fight testing and eventual final production variant of light combat helicopters before 2020.
    8. HAL to ensure speedy development and manufacture of light utility helicopter to Tri services before 2020
    9. HAL to prepare its resources for speedy commencement of locally built Rafales once final contract is signed.
    10. HAL to set in process motion for FGFA fighter manufacture.
    With all the above projects that need to be executed rapidly to face Chinese overt and covert aggression HAL should bicker and fight over IAF desire to order Pilatus trainers.
    The money wasted so far by Hal and other research agencies would more than compensate lifecycle costs of imported fighter and trainers.
    Make in India should not be a license for let's waste Indian money in name of make in india

  18. Unfortunately India is stuck between utterly nonefficient PSU and greed of IAF top officers.

  19. 12Prima facie, there is no issue with HAL vigrously asking to produce the HTT-40, but if they indeed claim they can have it fly next year, by now they should have either prototypes, or complete 3D models or engines under test to back their claim to have something ready in 2015. Even Boeing had their Dreamliner model (non-flying) ready 2-3 years before the first flight, and then too they faced many glitches.
    Besides, it's not that the need for a good training aircraft came from the blue.. HAL could well have been proactive and done a 'skunk (secret) project' showing some progress to justify holding back on Pilatus. Now we have a Hawk AJT, a Pilatus, and to keep HAL Happy, there would be some version of HTT-40 to close the file and keep everyone happy.Let HAL boss turn in a post-dated resignation for Dec 31 2015 in case his plane does not take to air, and we can believe him putting money where his mouth is.

  20. Ajai Ji/Ajai sir/Ajai bhai/Ajai Shukla,

    In vouching for HAL's credibility you are putting your own credibility at peril.

    Case-in-point: Your article dated 18 Dec 2013.


    Why have you not followed up on the IJT story? It’s convenient to dish out opinions but not back them up with facts, isn’t it? Mr. Armchair Strategist.

    For the sake of fairness and sanity, let’s try and use the age old Carrot-and-Stick model -

    Carrot: If HAL delivers the HTT-40 on time and to specs then IAF should reward 5% of the contract amount as satisfaction bonus to HAL.
    Stick: If HAL fails to deliver what it promised to, then it should foot the bill for off-the-shelf purchase of the aircraft that IAF needs.

    Given how HAL was dodging to take up the responsibility for the on-time delivery of the 108 'Make in India' Rafael fighters and was seen hiding behind protracted negotiations with Dassault, and also how HAL readily and willing gave up its share of work on FGFA, it speaks volumes about HAL's culture and credibility.

  21. I feel that the comments against HAL, are views of the lobbyists favouring western products for Indian military disguised as anonymous !!!

  22. Nothing is going to fly next year. Just loose talk made by HAL trying to please.

  23. Ajay, Don't lose your credibility just because you work for HAL PR campaign. Words can not fix a paralyzed man or a company.

  24. @ Anonymous

    ...and the "bond" better spell out in BOLD RED - "If HAL fails to deliver the HTT-40" in 24 months, HAL will be auctioned off to the highest bidder".

  25. I strongly believe that there is total disconnect between what IAF needs and what products are developed and what are the needs. There has been also apathy of the HAL to develop on its own as selection process itself use to take more than a decade and precisely 2 decades for AJT. Developing HPT 40 on its funding is a bold step by HAL as they are developing it from their money. The basic trainer is a very basic technology and more sophisticated plane P 51 mustang was developed in barely 19 months when america was lagging in aircraft technology as compared to Germans and Japanese.They quickly tested it and changed the engine to Merlin engine and a world beater was born that changed the course of the war.That time that was cutting edge technology and untested . Seventy years on this technology is well known and if there is delay in getting a prototype then HAL is definitely to be blamed as they would then prove they have only have screw driver technology. IJT is an example where HAL had done miserably and it seems IAF now no longer believes HAL. The IJT design is faulty and they should have chosen a reliable engine like Honeywell F 124 engine which is light , reliable and well tested and has lot of components which are common with F 125 which would be used in jaguar. It is very important that HAL uses the same Pratt and Whitney engine used in Pilutus trainer so that maintenance crew has less headache of training the maintenance crew and less of inventory . LCA is a different bird and to reach that level of sophistication requires time but a delay of a decade for developing IJT is unpardonable.It is very important that if a country aspires to be a world power it has to develop domestic products and by the end of the 2015 HAL has to devlop production versions of HPT 40 , IJT and LCA Mark 2 and if they fail to deliver on time a private builder be given a chance and HAL be just kept as a screw driver assembly shop to assemble the kits whether they be domestic or imported.

  26. HAL had all the time since 1995 to develop HTT -40. Tejas design was led by. ADA, HAL would have never never come this far.
    They tried IJT and failed. Why should, anyone believe HAL ?

  27. Hello Ajay,

    The following statement is not factual.

    "HAL credibly claims it can build the HTT-40 basic trainer, having [b][i]demonstrated design skills[/b][/i] on the far more sophisticated Tejas Light Combat Aircraft."

    The Tejas was designed by ADA. HAL is the building agency.

    The aircraft being designed by HAL - IJT 36 Sitara has design issues.

    The previous aircraft designed by HAL HPT-32 Deepak also had serious design issues that HAL falsely blamed on the engine. However, the same engine powers Indian Navy Islanders that have an impeccable flight record.

    To summarize, the poor track record of HAL in developing Sitara and Deepak does not give any confidence in its ability to deliver HTT-40.

  28. @ Anonymous 09:27

    If you can stop yelling Lies! Lies! for a moment, be informed that the IJT programme is far from collapsed.

    I'm impressed by your fortune telling ability! 2030 for the HTT-40. Such accuracy and certainty is rare.

  29. @ Ram Bhardwaj

    You provide the perfect example of having a strong opinion that is not based on strong facts.

    Actually, the HPT-32's accident record is a lot better than the entire MiG fleet. Take some time out and check out the official IAF figures. They are all here on my blog.

  30. @ Anonymous 23:07

    I would be more than willing to fly the HTT-40, had I been an IAF test pilot. And, rest assured, there are many who are ready to fly it today.

    Unlike you, lots of us understand that military service comes with risks and dangers. Those who don't want to face those had better sit at home.

  31. @ Anonymous 09:09

    If you have indeed been a careful reader of my blog, you would have noted that, in tens of articles, I have acknowledged ADA as the lead agency in developing the Tejas.

    Now here's some information for you. ADA doesn't do all the work itself. It is only a lead agency. It is manned by people from DRDO, HAL, etc. And it farms out a great deal of work to those agencies.

    It would be completely safe to say that at least 50 per cent of the Tejas programme has been done by HAL... even as that process is overseen by ADA.

    Get it?

  32. HAL's design capabilities ??? ha ha ha...they can't even manufacture defect free planes with full TOT. HAL...go _ yourself before talking ridiculously big things

  33. Why is poor HAL having so many haters. I guess they know very little. The LCA is more an HAL product than an ADA product. ADA was created to function as a nodal agency to coordinate the LCA development and testing. If you think the LCA is developed by ADA and ADA only, I have news for you. What the LCA is today is the result of the combined effort of multiple organizations within the country. HAL is the primary contractor for ADA in the design of LCA. So please, give credit where it is due. HAL has played a significant role in the design and development of the LCA. I think its safe to conclude that an organization that can churn out a 4th generation fighter can handle a basic trainer. The IAF should stop mindlessly backing the foreign manufacturers. Its true that the IJT is delayed, but then again which development program in the world has been totally free of delays.Unfortunate as they are, the delays in IJT should be used to discredit HAL of what it has done for the country.


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