“Make in India” for HAL trainer, import of Swiss trainer capped - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Sunday 1 March 2015

“Make in India” for HAL trainer, import of Swiss trainer capped

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 2nd March 2015

Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) has prevailed over the Indian Air Force (IAF) in a long-running battle over the basic trainer aircraft on which IAF rookies will learn to fly.

Backing HAL and “Make in India”, the ministry of defence (MoD) ruled on Saturday that the IAF would have to buy the Hindustan Turbo Trainer – 40 (HTT-40), which HAL is developing in Bengaluru.

Until the HTT-40 is delivered, the IAF will make do with 75 PC-7 Mark II trainers it has already bought from Pilatus of Switzerland. Under an “Options Clause” of that contract, the purchase of 38 more Pilatus trainers was sanctioned on Saturday. These would cost about Swiss Francs 230 million (Rs 1,500 crore).

After a meeting of the MoD’s apex Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), which arrived at this decision, a senior MoD official, briefing the media, said: “The DAC has ordered the IAF to order the HTT-40 in adequate number, to make this project commercially viable.”

The IAF has steadfastly opposed the HTT-40 project. As Business Standard revealed (July 29, 2013, “Indian Air Force at war with Hindustan Aeronautics; wants to import, not build, a trainer”) then IAF boss, Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne, wrote to Antony, incorrectly claiming that the HTT-40 was costlier than the PC-7 Mk II.

HAL rebutted that claim, convincing the MoD that the HTT-40 would cost Rs 38.5 crore, compared to the Swiss Francs 6.09 million price of Pilatus trainer, which comes to Rs 39.5 crore. When life-cycle costs were factored in, the indigenous HTT-40 would be far cheaper over four decades of service.

Last month, Business Standard --- which has followed and reported this issue in detail--- revealed (February 14, “Defence ministry official questions whether Pilatus was cheapest trainer”), that a key MoD procurement official had written to Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar that the PC-7 Mark II trainer was actually far more expensive than had been originally assessed.

With the IAF digging in its heels and blocking funding, HAL has put Rs 300 crore of its own into the HTT-40. Senior project managers say the trainer is on track to fly this year, and enter service by 2017-18.

The DAC has ordered strict monitoring of the HTT-40 project, to guard against delays. “The progress of the project will be monitored by a Committee that will report regularly to the DAC”, said the MoD official who briefed the media.

IAF pilots undergo three stages of training. In basic training, or Stage-1, rookie pilots learn to fly on simple aircraft like the PC-7 Mk I, and the HTT-40. They graduate to Stage-2 training on intermediate trainers like the Sitara, which HAL is developing. In Stage-3 training, which is done on Hawk advanced jet trainers, pilots prepare to fly frontline IAF fighters.

With the navy and army air wings steadily expanding, these services are likely to buy their own HTT-40s, in case the trainer proves an unqualified success. HAL has also proposed the HTT-40 for export, positioning it as a weaponised light attack aircraft.

The IAF grounded its earlier basic trainer, the HPT-32, after a fatal crash in 2009 that killed two pilots. Experts say the HPT-32’s safety record did not warrant peremptory grounding of its 110-trainer fleet.

Over 30 years of flying, in which 2,000 IAF pilots were trained and the HPT-32 logged 400,000 hours, there have been 17 crashes in which 19 IAF pilots were killed.

While grounding the HPT-32, the IAF continues to fly the MiG-21, which has a far more worrying safety record. In Jun 2003, the IAF head, Air Chief Marshal S Krishnaswamy, told the media that 98 MiG-21 crashes had claimed 43 lives in 5,53,000 sorties between 1994-2003.

Over the years, according to MoD figures tabled in parliament, 482 IAF MiGs (of all types) have crashed, killing 171 IAF pilots, 8 other servicemen, and 39 civilians. Yet none of these fighters were grounded.

In another procurement decision on Saturday, the DAC okayed the tendering of a Rs 32,000 crore project to build 12 modern “mine counter measure vehicles”, or MCMVs, in India. Foreign shipyards will bid to partner Goa Shipyard Ltd in building these 600-1,000 tonne vessels that detect and defuse mines, which an enemy could deploy to deter movement of our commercial vessels and battleships. An earlier tender for these vessels was withdrawn amidst allegations of corruption.

In addition, the DAC cleared the Rs 533 crore purchase of one C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft from US company, Lockheed Martin, to replace one that crashed last year.


  1. . hope I A F ends it extended romance with MIGs ,atleast now.

    . C-130J, did they tell (the nation)reason of the crash!!!/need we purchase one more ?
    . H A L all the best for you/do a great job please .

  2. Ajai - Small typo: you say"HAL has also proposed the HTT-40 for import".. you meant export, as in selling it to other countries as a light attach a/c.

    That said.. excellent report about the IAF finally behaving like the .. INDIAN air force. Be Indian, buy Indian, fly indian.

  3. "With the navy and army air wings steadily expanding, these services are likely to buy their own HTT-40s, in case the trainer proves an
    unqualified success................."


  4. Great News! Thanks Col.Shukla for relentlessly backing this project. Browne is serving as ambassador to Norway. He should be brought back and interrogated by CBI.

  5. Prashantsingh Bhadoria1 March 2015 at 18:25

    Ajay Sir

    You have been with this project right from day 1 and put its point transparently....the RM needs to be commended for this decision as he has rightly took a call and prevented a project being killed in inception phase. The HAL has already commenced work and this aircraft will be in skies by Sep Oct 2015..thanks for reposing confidence on the team of youngsters from R&D who are working on this project...the front fuselage and rear fuselage have been commissioned. the wing is under build..the engine PO placed and the LRUs have arrived...The project will be reviewed by RM himself on a monthly basis...and we will be transparent in updating the progress as openly as we have been fighting this one...thanks again

    Prashantsingh Bhadoria

  6. Correction: The HTT-40 is to be positioned for 'export' not 'import'

  7. Maintaining two aircraft in inventory is not a good idea. If the HTT-40 is a good success, the other aircraft should be disposed off in some manner in the world market so that the overall operating cost over 30 years comes down. Indigenous product will certainly have a lower cost in the long run.but HAL should have the confidence and credibility to deliver and redeem their image which has hit rock bottom already.

  8. @ Anonymous

    Thanks for pointing out the error. Have changed "import" to "export"

  9. @PrashantSingh Bhadoria

    This is a golden opportunity for HAL to prove that IAF is scuttling a crucial project of national interest. So, please stick to three following issues:

    1. No Defect
    2. On Time
    3. Within Budget

    Best of luck.

  10. A good and bold decision by the MoD. This is exactly the face-saving formula good for both IAF and HAL.

    Probably for the first time since independence, the MoD has taken a decision favouring indigenization. Now, HAL can (and must) deliver on the HTT-40.

    In the same way, MoD must reduce the proposed order of French Rafales to only 40 or 50. This will be a fac-saver for India and France.

    For India, costs will be reduced. For France, the deal would be concluded, and they'll get atleast a few billions.


    Let's abandon the PAK-FA. Let's channel all our energies into the AMCA.

  11. The Two Aircraft situation will remain till HAL delivers good and on time. HAL should look at continuous product improvement and give priority to user safety, rather than focussing purely on their order book and bottomlines.

  12. I read your article. The paragraph stands out : "With the navy and army air wings steadily expanding, these services are likely to buy their own HTT-40s, in case the trainer proves an unqualified success."

    With the HJT-36 turning out to an unmitigated disaster, HAL wants to create another disaster. Please note HAL is wasting our hard-earned money without shame and no sense of responsibility & you are abetting such a mischief.

    HAL has not sacked a single person w.r.t fiasco of IJT. Will the HAL directors and chairman pledge their pensions and salaries that the reeceive from today till they retire, in case of failure?

    Your above paragraph itself implies that we will import more such trainers from the Swiss in near future.

    If HAL believes it can deliver a world-class aircraft, then the board should not hesitate to accept such demands from the aam aadmi.

    Perhaps, HAL should be dismantled and sold to private sector, for Indians to recover their money invested in this useless and corrupt organization.

  13. Excellent! It is the best decision in along time.
    It is now up to HAL to deliver on time with quantity and quality.
    Should be possible because we have failed because of "Doctrinaire economic policies" and not because we lacked brains.

  14. Ajaiji: We as a country are waking up, looks like! Better late than never, better make in India, than to buy videshi just to realize later that they have started overcharging. What is this overcharging game, these companies play with India. We are a powerful country and must teach such companies a lesson. There has to be a way


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