IAF block on indigenous HTT-40 trainer aircraft keeps door open for Swiss trainers - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 10 June 2019

IAF block on indigenous HTT-40 trainer aircraft keeps door open for Swiss trainers

Even as the indigenous HTT-40 (above) moves towards final clearance, the IAF continues to block its induction into service

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 11th June 19

The Indian Air Force has refused to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the Hindustan Turbo Trainer - 40 (HTT-40) basic trainer aircraft. An RFP is essential for Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) to release money to develop the engine that will power the Indian-designed trainer.

HAL has to pay Rs 180 crore to US firm Honeywell, to upgrade its TPE-331-12B engine that will power 106 HTT-40 trainers needed by the Indian military. HAL is willing to pay, but the company’s board insists that the money be disbursed only after the IAF demonstrates its intention to procure the HTT-40 – through an RFP, which is the first stage of a purchase.

But the IAF says it will only issue an RFP after the HTT-40 completes spin trials. In this critical trial, the test pilot deliberately throws his aircraft into a spin. After it has spun six times around its axis, he must recover the aircraft into level flight.

Since its first flight in 2015, the HTT-40 has consistently surpassed IAF performance benchmarks in flight-testing. In on-going spin trials the trainer has incrementally demonstrated the ability to recover from three spins. 

At a high-level meeting in the MoD, chaired by the defence production secretary (Secretary DP) and attended by top IAF officers, HAL presented videos of the trainer recovering from three spins. The project managers pointed out that recovering from six spins is a matter of incremental testing.

The IAF had initially committed to issuing the RFP after the HTT-40’s first flight. When it flew in 2015, the IAF set a new benchmark of stall testing. When that was completed in 2017, the benchmark was changed to the first spin test. In late 2018, after the HTT-40 demonstrated it could recover from a spin, the IAF said it would issue an RFP only after the HTT-40 demonstrated it could recover from six spins.

HAL is concerned about production delays that could arise. An immediate RFP would allow HAL to pay Honeywell to begin the two-year process of replacing the TPE-331-12B engine’s old “electronic engine controller” (EEC) with a “full authority digital engine controller” (FADEC). Delaying payment would result in the FADEC-equipped engine being unavailable when the HTT-40 goes into production.

A senior HAL official points out they have asked the IAF neither for payment, nor a contract. An RFP amounts to only an IAF statement of interest, without financial liabilities. But it is essential for the HAL board to clear payments to Honeywell.

With the HTT-40 programme thus mired, the IAF is demanding that 38 Pilatus PC-7 Mark II trainer aircraft be imported from Switzerland, to supplement 75 Pilatus trainers contracted in 2012 in a deal that was clouded by controversy. 

Contacted for comments, the IAF states: “The [HTT-40] has just entered the spin phase of trials… As per DPP an RFP can be issued only after design and development completion/certification by HAL followed by IAF flight trials.” The air force points out that there was an audit objection when an RFP was issued for the Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT) before spin trials were completed.

In fact, in the IJT case, the IAF went far beyond placing an RFP. It contracted for and actually paid HAL for constructing a significant number of IJTs. HAL points out that placing an RFP for the HTT-40 involves no financial liability.

Furthermore, in December 2017, the IAF placed an RFP for the Tejas Mark 1A. This is an advanced version of the current fighter that exists only on the drawing board and is nowhere near flight-testing or completion.

The IAF has relentlessly opposed the HTT-40 since the start of the programme, opting instead for importing the Swiss Pilatus. Business Standard reported (July 29, 2013, “Indian Air Force at war with Hindustan Aeronautics; wants to import, not build, a trainer”) that the IAF chief wrote a personal letter to the defence minister, incorrectly attributing an unduly high price to the HTT-40, compared to the Swiss trainer. The defence minister allowed the indigenous programme to continue.

In 2009, when a global tender was floated to buy 75 trainer aircraft, the IAF diluted the existing performance benchmarks, allowing the Pilatus PC-7 Mark II trainer into the contract (July 30, 2013, “Air Force diluted at least twelve benchmarks for trainer aircraft, allowing Pilatus into the contract”).

But the HTT-40 still stands in the way of import. The defence procurement procedure (DPP) mandates the highest procurement priority for “Indian designed, developed and manufactured (IDDM)” equipment – a category the HTT-40 falls in. The MoD and HAL remain committed to backing the HTT-40, which is likely to complete testing by December, according to HAL officials. 

Currently, approval exists for buying 106 HTT-40 trainers. If the IAF is permitted to import 38 Pilatus trainers, the number of indigenous trainers will fall to 68 aircraft.


  1. Hi Ajai,

    The HTT40 fiasco shows just how addicted IAF is to foreign suppliers. Whilst HAL is not the paragon of efficiency and timely delivery, that an aspiring superpower has to source basic propeller driver trainers from a small European country that is basically a nobody in the international arms bazaar.

    Shame on IAF and HAL!


    1. At one point of time we were on the verge of selecting PM from a small European country. This is only a basic aircraft...

  2. Really HTT-40 is not needed at all. HAL knew it only very well that after HPT-32, there would be necessity of a new turbo trainer. They would have to start delelopment and certification of HTT-40 much earlier but they started it after selection of Pilatus PC-7 mark 2. PC-7 is now in operational state and doing extremely good. The most wise decision would be import of additional PC-7 to fill the necessary number of 181 basic trainer. No air force on the earth uses two different basic trainer for basic flight training. It increases maintenance and operating cost and makes inconvenience to the user.
    And for your information, there was no wrongdoing in selection of PC-7. Pilatus was the L1 bidder. And PC-7 is operational with 20 odd air forces around the world.
    It's only you who is alleging Pilatus.
    It's very clear that you are very upset and angry on IAF. Because , despite your open lobbying for the South Korean basic trainer, Pilatus was selected. The very same thing happened during selection of Rafale. Moreover, all these procurement are moving smoothly despite your criticism. Your frustrations are well understood. But, IAF is choosing the optimum options so far. Feeling sad for you.

  3. Misleading title !
    What is preventing HAL from completing all trials & then asking for RFP/orders ?
    IJT started flying 2 decades ago. No progress at all.

    HAL has a history of killing rookie pilots in previous BAT, they could never solve its issues.
    So they make unsafe planes.
    Let IAF buy Pilatus.
    Pilatus should also be serviced at pvt sector too.

  4. Someone in the IAF and Defence Ministry has taken a fat packet under the table to push the Pilatus.

    HAL must fight it tooth & nail.

  5. Before arguing absurdly HAL should proof its technology international standard and flaue less involves life risk. If IAF will not by other will buy which will satisfy no faulty and out dated technology.

  6. Why auditors raised audit objection for IAF issuing RFP for indigenous IJT? Indigenous design and development is fraught with challenges and if raise such observations, we are killing indigenous design and development

  7. When was the last spin test conducted? If the six spin test us just a matter if incremental testing then the onus us on HAL to complete the testing and then approach IAF.
    Additiobally, it is known that the engines are the most complicated part if any aircraft and HAL depending on Honeywell to supply the engines, most probably through imports, exposed the disingenuous propaganda that the HTT-40 is an indigenous product.
    Lastly, it is HAL's board decision that a RFP is required from IAF before releasing the payment to HAL. Not very sure as to how the onus is on IAF to comply with a decision made by the HAL board


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