HAL trainer aircraft or Pilatus? Govt verdict today - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 8 December 2014

HAL trainer aircraft or Pilatus? Govt verdict today

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 9th Dec 14

The moment of truth has arrived in the long running duel between the Indian Air Force (IAF) and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) over which trainer aircraft should be used for teaching IAF rookies to fly.

Business Standard has learnt that, on Tuesday morning, the ministry of defence (MoD) will hold a special meeting of the apex Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), chaired by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, to definitively choose between their competing demands.

The IAF wants the Swiss Pilatus PC-7 Mark II, while HAL wants to supply the Hindustan Turbo Trainer – 40 (HTT-40) it is developing, which is slated to fly next year. On Thursday, both sides made final presentations before the MoD.

In 2009, the ministry had ruled the IAF would buy 75 trainers from abroad, while HAL developed and built 106 HTT-40 trainers in India, thus meeting the IAF’s need for 181 aircraft. In May 2012, the IAF bought 75 Pilatus PC-7 Mark II trainers for Swiss Francs 577 million (Rs 3,727 crore).

Then, the IAF demanded the HTT-40 programme be scrapped, and 106 more aircraft be bought from Pilatus. It alleged the HTT-40 was too expensive; would take too long to deliver; and that the IAF could not operate two different kinds of basic trainer aircraft.

On Thursday, HAL forcefully rebutted these contentions before a high-level MoD “categorization committee”. HAL officials stated the HTT-40 was cheaper than the Pilatus, which has priced the PC-7 Mark II at Swiss Francs 6.09 million each (Rs 38.5 crore). HAL has priced the HTT-40 at Rs 32.8 crore per aircraft.

A key part of HAL’s presentation focused on the HTT-40’s high indigenous content. Unlike the Swiss aircraft, which is bought over-the-counter without any indigenization, HAL promised the HTT-40 would be 70 per cent indigenous.

HAL explained that, of its trainer’s 95 systems, 55 are of Indian design and build. Another 35 systems will be built in India with transferred technology, including the aircraft’s Honeywell engine. Only 5 systems will be built abroad.

HAL explained this would make it easy to support the HTT-40 through its service life. The 53 PC-7 Mark II trainers already delivered by Pilatus face problems with service support. Pilatus has asked HAL to negotiate licensing and service agreements with more than 28 separate vendors.

“If Pilatus is playing hardball with the IAF with a contract for 106 trainers in the offing, imagine how difficult they’ll be when that contract is in the bag,” an HAL official told the MoD.

HAL officials made another powerful argument to the MoD on Thursday --- that “end user” agreements with Pilatus ban India from weaponising the PC-7 Mark II, which means kitting it out as a light fighter with guns, bombs and rockets. In contrast, weaponising the HTT-40 and selling it to allies like Afghanistan would require no foreign permission.

HAL also briefed the MoD on the progress of the HTT-40, which is expected to make its first flight next year. The MoD was shown photographs of the HTT-40’s front fuselage, which is already built.

Finally, countering the IAF’s argument against two types of basic trainers, HAL told the MoD that several air forces operated two basic trainers. The Turkish Air Force has bought the indigenous Hurkus trainer, even as most of its pilots train on the T-37 Tweety Bird. Ankara did this to support the Hurkus, which is built by Turkish Aerospace Industries.

The IAF argued that the HTT-40 would be costlier than the Pilatus trainer over its 30-year service life. When HAL challenged this contention, the IAF was not able to back it with figures.

The MoD categorisation committee will deliver important inputs into the DAC meeting on Tuesday. The final choice will be exercised by the DAC.

“Backing the HTT-40 would be line with the prime minister’s “Make in India” thrust. It would help create a network of small and medium aerospace suppliers that would be essential for future indigenous aircraft programmes”, says Pushpindar Singh, publisher of Vayu Magazine and a respected aerospace expert.

Rookie pilots learn to fly in 80 hours of Stage-1 training in a basic trainer. Those found fit to become fighter pilots then do Stage-2 training on the Kiran trainer, which will be replaced by the Sitara Intermediate Jet Trainer that HAL is developing. Stage-3 training is on the Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT), after which pilots graduate to the frontline fighters that they would fly into battle.


  1. I am willing to bet HAL will miss every deadline they set for themselves.

    Ineptness from HAL kills people.

  2. The HAL HT-2 story comes to mind. http://www.bharat-rakshak.com/IAF/History/Aircraft/HT-2.html

  3. Update on decision by DAC?????

  4. Just Saying :

    IAF must add a clause that if the HTT 40 is not delivered on time and does not clear IAF Certifications.

    i) HAL will Pay IAF for Buying Pilatus.

    ii) All the High to Mid rank HAL management working on the project must be dismissed from service at the president's displeasure.

    If HAL says it an do it i time, it better put its money where its mouth is. We dont want IAF to lose men and preparedness because of it.

    Also, why not have Private players like Mahindra in , with an Indian Consortium like TATA SED- Mahindra - L&T.

  5. What happened in the meeting yesterday?

  6. Its so funny that our country's own air force is against the indigenous development effort. Its totally unacceptable that the IAF continues to back PC 7 and asks for the HTT40 to be scrapped. I mean.. which country has an air force like this? The IAF knows that HAL has gone ahead with the development of HTT40 on its own. HAL says they can fly the prototype within a year or so. Still the IAF insists on scrapping the indigenous project. Pilatus didn't start producing PC 7s over night. It took them more than a decade of development effort and the prototypes that crashed. So its not fair on behalf of the IAF to ask for HTT40 to be scrapped. Bear in mind that this is the same Air Force that didn't want the re-engined HPT32 (HTT34). The HTT34 was developed and a prototype was flown by HAL, presumably at its own expense. Eventually they were allowed to buy a swiss trainer for the immediate requirement when it became evident that it is too late to wait for an indegenous trainer to be designed and developed. Now they want the indigenous project to be scrapped? the MOD should refuse this demand. The IAF seems to be keen on helping this swiss manufacturer make as much money as possible.

  7. @Rahul - IAF has to look out for the lives, yes lives of its men. Next they have to look out for the preparedness of its pilots. HAL has a history of not delivering on time, not meeting standards during production phase (using cheap spare parts) so a wise and responsible Air Force has to play it safe. If HAL does not deliver , men will die and pilot quality will suffer. So it will play safe and go with the best option. HAL also uses its influence with the MoD and Def Min to force the IAF to induct aircraft, so they can make their project a success and profitable. Example is IOC phase for Tejas. If HAL is soo confident of its product let it make the product on its own and market it to other nations. If its really successful, then Naturally IAF will be interested. Does Samsung or Apple ask you to buy first and then supply a phone to you or do they first produce something great and then you decide to buy? HAL must prove its product and then attract the IAF. Capital investment is not so High for HTT40 its not a fighter Jet. Govt is promoting export

  8. @ Rahul
    Yeah it took Pilatus 7+ years to perfect the PC-7 but they did not harangue the Swiss Govt. to buy its planes so that it could be financially viable as a business. HAL on the other hand operates like a monopoly and wants confirmed orders before they can develop anything and that too solely for the consumption of its only customer the IAF. What kind of nonsense is that?

    Yes, we are all for indigenous development and Pilatus is just another foreign company that is just out there to make money on our backs and leave us high and dry when the going gets rough. They are already giving us the run on maintenance contracts and spare parts. But what about having HAL compete for this order with an Indian private player in the "Make in India" category ? I think that might just be what Parrikar will approve. At least I am hoping for the same.

  9. Curious to know what the decision was from the DAC meeting yesterday.


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