HAL fights for indigenous HTT-40 trainer, over Swiss Pilatus - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 15 January 2019

HAL fights for indigenous HTT-40 trainer, over Swiss Pilatus

By Ajai Shukla
Bengaluru, 16th Jan 19

In a coup for indigenisation, the Hindustan Turbo Trainer - 40 (HTT-40) basic trainer aircraft, designed and built by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), has outperformed all the Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) demanding specifications. The final qualifications – stall and spin tests – are proceeding well and HAL expects full certification by June.

However, even as HAL seeks a green light for manufacturing the HTT-40, the IAF is pressing for buying 38 more Pilatus PC-7 Mark II basic trainers from Switzerland, to supplement the 75 it already operates. This would mean building fewer Indian trainers.

There has always been a contest between the Indian and Swiss trainers. In 2009, the ministry of defence (MoD) divided the IAF’s requirement of 181 basic trainers between the two. The IAF was allowed to buy 75 trainers in “flyaway condition” from Pilatus, while HAL began developing the HTT-40 with the aim of building the rest. 

The MoD stipulated that, if HAL’s trainer had not flown by the time the first imported trainer is delivered, the IAF could active an “options clause”, buying 38 more imported trainers and a building those many less in India. 

Citing that condition, the IAF is insisting on buying 38 more Pilatus. Asked why by Business Standard, the IAF stated: “In 2013, the first PC-7 Mk II Pilatus was delivered but the HTT-40 was still not ready to fly.”

Today, the HTT-40 is not just flying, but outperforming the Pilatus, as well as the IAF’s performance criteria, called the Preliminary Air Staff Requirements (PSQRs).

Against the IAF’s demand for a top speed of 400 kilometres/hour, the HTT-40 has been tested to 420 kilometres/hour; it has flown to 20,200 feet, exceeding the IAF’s ceiling requirement of 20,000 feet. The HTT-40 takes off and lands in just 800 metres of runway, against the PSQR demand of 1,000 metres. It had demonstrated that it can climb faster, turn tighter and glide longer than the IAF requires.

HTT-40 exceeds the specs

IAF Requirements
Achieved by HTT-40

Maximum speed
400 kilometre/hour
420 kilometres/hour
Maximum altitude
20,000 feet
20,200 feet
Time to climb to 3,000 metres
8 minutes
7 minutes, 30 seconds
Take off/landing distance
1,000 metres
800 metres
Maximum G-force
6G and -3G
6.25G and -3G
Glide ratio (flying without engines)

Making the IAF’s insistence on the Pilatus trainer even more puzzling is the fact that the original purchase of 75 PC-7 Mark 2 trainers – as the media had widely reported – came under the Central Bureau of Investigation’s (CBI’s) scanner for alleged links between Pilatus and alleged arms dealer, Sanjay Bhandari, who has since fled to London. A former air force chief’s role is also being investigated.

In December, in a meeting in the ministry of defence (MoD), HAL officials strongly argued for fast-tracking HTT-40 clearance, even playing out a video of the HTT-40 smoothly handling the on-going spin testing. Impressed by its performance, the MoD has backed the Indian trainer.

Besides performance, the Make in India policy favours choosing the HTT-40. The Defence Procurement Procedure of 2016 gives top priority to procuring equipment in the category of “Make – Indian Designed, Developed and Manufactured” (Make IDDM) – which the indigenously developed HTT-40 squarely falls into.

HAL has funded the HTT-40 development programme with Rs 500 crore of company funds. It now needs to pay Honeywell -- the US firm that builds the HTT-40’s engine – Rs 180 crore to develop a digital controller for the engine. HAL’s chairman, R Madhavan, says he would be happy to pay from HAL’s resources to save time. 

“But HAL’s board, by way of abundant caution, has stipulated that the money should be paid once the IAF issues an RFP so that recovery is assured. That is why we want an RFP from the air force urgently,” says Madhavan.

An air force RFP is also required for HAL to start setting up a production line for the HTT-40. Given the large number of trainers the IAF needs, Madhavan says HAL intends to deliver two HTT-40s the first year, then ramp up to eight next year and, in the third year, stabilise the line at 10 aircraft per year.

In 2015, the MoD green-lighted the procurement of 70 HTT-40 trainers. But HAL says an order for 38 additional trainers would let development costs be recovered over a larger number of aircraft, lowering the price of the Indian trainer.

HAL also points out that an Indian trainer aircraft could be weaponised, or fitted out for a reconnaissance role. Such modifications would be impossible with a Swiss trainer, given the tight end-user conditions imposed by Pilatus on the IAF.

Further, the HTT-40 can be maintained, overhauled and upgraded through its 30-40 year service life by HAL, far more cheaply than the Swiss trainer for which the IAF would have to keep going back to Pilatus.

HTT-40 versus Pilatus trainer

Pilatus PC-7 Mark 2

Indigenous content
70 per cent indigenous
Zero indigenisation
Design authority
Indian IP, no cash outflow or permissions to modify
Dependence on Pilatus for entire 30 years lifetime.
Periodic upgrade
By HAL, no cash outflow
Lifetime dependence
Fully Indian decision
Denied by end-user clauses
Aircraft sub-systems
80 per cent indigenous
100 per cent imported
HAL to build under ToT with Honeywell, 50% indigenous
Fully imported Pratt & Whitney engine
Maintenance support
In-house by HAL
Dependence on Pilatus
Forex exposure
Limited to 30 per cent of cost
100 per cent exposure
Supply chain
Stable, mostly Indian vendors
Dependence on Pilatus
Training scope
Basic and intermediate
Only basic training

The IAF has already paid Pilatus Rs 300 crore for maintaining the PC-7 Mark II fleet for the first five years. Now, Pilatus is demanding another Rs 550 crore for maintenance know how.

The IAF, however, says it needs 38 more trainers so urgently that it cannot wait for HAL’s HTT-40 production line to kick in. It says it will issue an RFP once the HTT-40 is certified.

Who wins the impending order for 38 PC-7 Mark 2 trainers – Pilatus or HAL – is now in the hands of the MoD. Industry experts believe the Make in India trainer will prevail.

The Pilatus and HTT-40 are basic trainers, used for training rookie pilots before they graduated onto the more advanced Kiran, and then the Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT). Only after these three stages of training are pilots posted to combat squadrons to fly frontline fighters.


  1. NSR says ---

    Col. Shukla,

    Comparisons are great...
    But India did not even succeed in building even a simple and basic flying plane … even they are imported...

    It is too much to ask IAF to wait wait wait…
    HAL needed to produce HTT-40 a decade ago...
    IAF needs to train pilots using these a decade ago … they need to hurry up...

    1. IAF sat on the HPT Deepak replacement for Decades.
      FYI.. HAL had a plan for its replacement long back , search for HTT-35. IAF turned a blind eye.

      Additionally, IAF tried to sabotage the whole requirement by diluting the requirements.
      See this link for more details : https://wap.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/iaf-diluted-al-least-12-benchmarks-for-trainer-aircraft-113072901068_1.html




  3. Our RM Mr.M Parrikar had pushed HTT disregarding more orders for Pilatus. Knowing MoD they will stall Pilatus. Once certification done , will push this down the throat of IAF. Rest assured.

    This govt did the same with Tejas. Made IAF agree to improved Mk1, then asked them to buy 83 of Mk1a.
    HAL needs to deliver good quality on time.
    That is all. They are anyway short orders, so should build these quickly.

    If HAL fails now with this kind of backing from govt , better shut it down .

  4. As a defence reporter you are doing a good job. Its when you mix your political leaning with your defence reporting that it becomes stale.

  5. According to the classification used in India, HTT-40 and Pilatus are primary trainers, not basic, the term used by you. Kiran is a basic trainer and Hawk is advanced trainer.

  6. Fiscal profligacy both by politicians and our bureaucrats exists due to an absence of accountability. The fault is with Sardar Patel who foisted the IAS on the country. Our IAS, for those who did not notice, is nothing but the former colonial instrument the ICS which was used to administer the dictatorship of a foreign power.
    The IAS has retained the burra sahib culture and the ethos of the ICS - improved it considerably by adding Its own Brahmin mix and intelligence to it, they have taught the lower castes who join the service that this culture is the norm, “we are a bunch of entitled people”
    Seventy years of independence and I am reminded, when I look at our bureaucrats, the old adage that Power without accountability has always been the prerogative of the harlot.
    That is to say (for the benefit of folk who have not used a prostitute) a harlot will always use her power to keep her own interests first.
    The underlying message in many the writings of Broadsword is of colossal criminal mismanagement and waste due to wrong decisions of the bureaucracy with nobody ever being brought to account.

  7. Colonel,

    Thanks for your consistent follow-up and reporting on this bird.
    One hopes current RM supports HTT-40 like her predecessor.
    In addition to sustaining HAL and getting additional birds for IAF, the lifecycle benefits are just too many to ignore.

    There is also a learning here for HAL as to what it can achieve if the team is young i.e. not set mentality other than fire in the belly.


  8. Although pilatus is a brilliant aircraft... and it makes no sense to buy a different aircraft for stage 1, they should buy atleast a 100....htt40 and use it as stage 2 replacing Kiran.

    Although performance of pilatus will remain superior...as it's proven

    Htt 40 will take a decade to mature... which probably IAF is factoring.

    I guess they have to bite the bullet and go indegeous.its going to be worth it in the long run

  9. India should go for extra Pilatus trainers. Because
    1. HAL should start design HTT-40 much earlier so that it would be ready when Kiran retires. But they started it much later even after selection of Pilatus.
    2. Pilatus is a time tested aircraft and working very efficiently with IAF training programme.
    whereas HTT-40 is yet to get FOC. Keeping in mind HAL's own track record regarding design and development of aircraft like TEJAS it highly doubtful how good would be HTT !
    3. Most importantly, maintaining two types of aircrafts of different lineage for same purpose is an insane idea from operating and financial point of view. No other country follow the same idea.
    So, even if HTT-40 comes out as a very good basic trainer it would be very costly affair and operational nightmare. It would have very good prospect if MoD asked HAL to start its design and development earlier and not asking any tender for basic trainer .

    1. Apparently, the HAL team working on the htt 40 is really young and highly motivated. They've got the aircraft out in record time.

      The aircraft actually outperforms the staff requirements comfortably. However, they will have issues pertaining to avionics and general reliability in the initial years.

      Nonetheless, I feel, the IAF should back the project completely for stage 2, as a replacement for Kiran.

      Makes no sense to have 2 different aircraft for stage 1.

      Its criminal.

  10. NSR says ---


    If HAL can not manufacture these helicopter rotor blades with TOT what else cn they do Colnel Saahib?

    India is in deep trouble and I pray for it...

  11. Indigenisation is definitely the sole driving factor in favour of HAL and if the IAF is satisfied with the aircraft, they must back it in spirit. But HALs sloth and and 'sarkaari' hangover is apparent in that it promises to deliver at a top speed of 10 HTTs per year, whereas Pilatus, a much smaller firm representing a country a fraction of our size, delivered 75 in 3 years. So the IAF is stuck between a rock and a hard place and is just concerned with getting the job done with no time or luxury to look at the long term. An ideal solution would be to accept the HTT, force HAL to hand over production to private industry (after competitive bidding) and make HAL divert those resources and budget to increasing delivery rate of the Tejas IA and expediting Mk 2.

  12. Too little too late. Our trainee pilots cannot wait for HAL to sort out the kinks in HTT40. Its another Sitara fiasco in the making by the looks of it. If it ever graduates (and if HAL manages to set up an actual production line) we can arm and use them as COIN aircraft and donate a few to Afganistan, Myanmar, Maldives.

  13. Col Shukla,

    IAF often complains about the 17 HPT-32 trainers
    that have crashed out of the roughly 150 trainers it had inducted over the years.
    That is an attrition rate of 17/150, which is about 12%.
    We dont know how many crashes were caused by pilot error in training.
    You have also correctly observed that nearly half of their mig21s
    have crashed but they dont make as much noise about it.
    An even more damning statistic is about the Mirage 2000,
    which is one of their favorite “safe” aircrafts. A lot
    of people are not aware of the fact that the IAF has inducted only
    about 60 mirage aircrafts of which 11 have crashed
    ( mostly for airplane faults rather than pilot error). This
    is a crash rate of 20%. Do you see a bias here? Please make
    people aware of these statistics.


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