IAF gets respite from training nightmare with HTT-40 deal. Focus now on Intermediate Jet Trainer

New Delhi: The Indian Air Force (IAF) Thursday signed a deal of Rs 6,800 crore with state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for the purchase of 70 Hindustan Turbo Trainer (HTT)-40 training aircraft, a move that reduces the pressure of the force juggling its workout modules due to limited number airplanes.

The HTT 40, a project funded by HAL itself internal funds after the IAF initially refused to participate is now seen by the power as a game changer and progress made in “record time”.

“The successful implementation of the project in record time is a great relief. We now hope that the delivery schedule will be met,” a source said in the statement the defense institute said.

The new aircraft will be part of the first training phase for the IAF pilots – basic training – and will eventually become the Swiss made . to replace Pilatus aircraft purchased in 2012.

The IAF pilots go through three training phases using three different types of aircraft before transitioning to combat aircraft.

The man behind the HTT-40, which is also planned for export, is former HAL chairman T. Suvarna Raju who started the project in 2012 when: he became the Design Director at the state-owned company.

“The IAF was deployed for the Swiss base training aircraft Pilate. I went to my board and got approval of Rs 400 crore from our own money to kickstart the project,” Raju told ThePrint.

Incidentally, Raju was chairman of the HAL when the first prototype, with his initials TSR 001 on the wing, made his first landing for the then Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar in 2016.

HAL sources said the all-metal aircraft, which is powered by Honeywell engines, has about 55 percent native content.

Asked about the high costs per plane of about Rs 90 crore each (if one calculates the contract value for the total number of aircraft ordered), HAL sources said the actual cost is less than Rs 50 crore each and the additional cost is among other costs for spare parts, training and infrastructure.

The HTT 40 has features like running pilot switching, hot refueling, zero-zero ejection seats, multifunction displays, night flying capabilities and a range of 1,000 km with a top speed of 450 km/h.

All tests required for certification were completed in six years from the first flight which took place in May 2016.

In November 2019, former IAF chief Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria had flown in the HTT-40, in which he assessed the flying features including the six-spin routine.

Also read: Prachand, India’s new Light Combat Helicopter, does not yet have a main arsenal or protection suite

Next up is Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT)

Defense sources said the next step for the IAF is the Intermediate jet Trainer (IJT) which will replace the obsolete Kiran aircraft used for Phase 2 of the training.

Both phase 1 and phase 2 of the training last six months each before the pilots move on to the next phase who has been on board the Hawk fighter jets.

Sources explained that due to the decreasing number of from trainers, the IAF was forced to use a limited number of Kiran and even Pilate for Phase 2 of the training.

In January, the IAF pilots demonstrated successfully the IJTs ability to perform six spins to the left and right hand side.

Although the IJT in terms of height and speed range, load factor, satisfactory stall characteristics and limited armament capability as required by the IAF much previously a successful spin test was pending.

During spin tests in 2016, the aircraft departed from controlled flight that temporarily brought the program to a halt, had the HAL in a statement, adding that it decided to continue using its internal resources to complete the critical spin tests.

Basic training saga

Until the IAF decided to go for the Pilatus plane, a deal embroiled in controversy over bribery allegations, the IAF pilots did their first training phase aboard HAL manufactured Hindustan Piston Trainer-32 (HPT-32).

The plane was grounded in 2009 after several crashes and engine failures. That is when the IAF landed the Pilatus deal for 75 aircraft.

In his 2019 reportthe Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) was critical of the Rs 2,895.63 crore deal, say that incorrect price calculations had worked in the company favor.

The audit report said that the Switzerland-based Pilatus Aircraft got the deal despite not adhering to it technology transfer for maintenance, and was allowed to sell his offer at a later stage for an advantage over competitors. The company also did not offer seamless supply of spare parts, it added.

The 2012 deal is under the scanner of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) since it was marked by the Ministry of Defense while under Manohar Parrikar. But in January In 2016, the Defense Acquisition Council (DAC) approved the purchase of 38 PC-7 Mk-II trainers from the Swiss company after a strong pitch from the IAF.

The government then cancelled the proposed deal for additional Pilatus aircraft in 2019, after the HTT-40 clears crucial trials.

However, suspension of business with Pilatus had consequences for the maintenance of the existing fleet since spare parts were not available. Sources said the IAF was forced to buy spare parts from third part sources and also cannibalize existing aircraft.

(Edited by Tony Rai)

Also read: Why the famous Russian Air Force failed in Ukraine and the essential lessons the IAF can draw from it?

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