Almost three years after the good old Hindustan Piston Trainer 32 [HPT 32] – the staple basic trainer of the Indian Air Force [IAF] – got grounded because of an endemic engine problem, which was causing it to crash, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd [HAL] has pitched to the IAF a brand new trainer, Hindustan Turbo Trainer 40 [HTT 40].
But the IAF is not happy. Sources in the force say that they would rather have HAL concentrating on delivering on its contracts like the Hawk advanced jet trainer [the 66th Hawk flew for the IAF this month] and then go and begin work on a new basic trainer. In fact, the IAF has priced HTT 40 higher than Pilatus P 7 which they are procuring.
The underlying sentiment is that when the IAF has got finally the Cabinet Committee on Security [CCS] clearance to buy the 75 Swiss Pilatus P-7, why go for an Indian trainer. The Pilatus P-7 Mark II contract has a follow-on clause that empowers the IAF to get more, when and if required.
But the HAL has gone ahead and issued a tender for turbo-prop engines for the HTT 40 on 9 June last. The aeronautics company has stipulated to turboprop Original Equipment Manufacturers that it requires an operating envelope of Mach [Speed of sound being one Mach] 0-0.6, calibrated air speed of maximum 500 km/h and ceiling altitude of 7,000-metres.
The HTT basic trainer will actually be a value addition to when the deliveries begin for the IAF. It has had to cut the number of hours that trainee pilots can have on a basic trainer after the grounding of the HPT 32.
The gap is being filled by the Kiran Mark IIs, which have picked up the slack left by HPT. But the Kiran’s have a life-cycle problem that is restricting the number of hours each trainee pilot an get on the aircraft. Some experts believe that this has acted upon the number of pilots the IAF is recruiting in recent times. Earlier, every year the IAF used to take in about 150-odd youngsters to train them as fighter pilots. Now its less than 100.
The IAF training has three stages: basic, intermediate and final. This constitutes about a total of 250 hours flying experience, after which a trainee is allocated to an operational squadron. This has now got compressed with the absence of a basic trainer and an intermediate jet trainer.
The much promised Intermediate Jet Trainer [IJT] that HAL is supposedly working on is still at the development stage with prototypes flying till some time ago, a paltry 10 hrs. Now at the insistence of the IAF, the Hal has increased the hours flying to marginally.
There are genuine concerns that the IJT can be delivered to the IAF by its target date end-2014. If HAS proves incapable of delivering with them, the IAF’s training wing will have to go back to the drawing boards for rejigging the training flying hours.